A new “hole” in the Sun’s atmosphere has sparked stunning displays of the northern lights here on Earth

By Tom Yulsman | January 8, 2017 1:26 pm

As the coronal hole rotated into view of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the spacecraft captured a video of what it looked like

Data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory were used to create this view of an elongated coronal hole rotating across the face of the Sun in the first week of January 2016. (Source: Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA)

Data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory were used to create this view of hole in the Sun’s corona rotating across the face of the Sun in the first week of January 2016. (Source: Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA)

Ok, let’s say it straight away: A “hole” in the Sun’s corona is completely natural. It’s just one of those things that happens from time to time.

Even so, when it occurs, the results can be spectacular — on the Sun itself, as well as here on Earth.

And it just happened. Again.

The video above shows the Sun spinning on its axis and carrying an elongated coronal hole across its surface. It was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft between January 2nd and 5th.

Down here on Earth, the consequences truly were stunning, as the following time-lapse video posted to Twitter documents. (Make sure to keep reading below it for even more imagery.)

SEE ALSO: Here’s what the the northern lights look like from 512 miles up in space: glowing swirls of diaphanous fog

Coronal holes are areas where the Sun’s magnetic field opens toward space. This greatly enhances the solar wind, which consists of high energy particles that constantly stream away from the corona. The enhanced wind of hot particles blowing into space can move at speeds approaching 2 million miles per hour. That’s about twice the average velocity of the solar wind.

With so much hot material blowing outward, a darkened area — a so-called “hole” — is left behind on the Sun. The SDO video shows what it looks like in extreme ultraviolet light.

Here’s a view in several wavelengths, with the Sun’s magnetic field lines and the coronal hole demarcated:

As the coronal hole rotated into a position facing Earth right around New Years, photographers got ready to record the auroras that often are triggered when the enhanced solar wind jostles the Earth’s protective magnetic bubble.

Here are some examples that were posted to Twitter — enjoy!:

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Photography, select, Sun, Top Posts
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  • OWilson

    The three most beautiful sights on earth are a moonless starry night, intense Northern Lights, and a multicolored sunset.

    Unfortunately only a few of us have witnessed the former, and most take the latter for granted.

    Even the puffy white clouds on a blue background would be a major phenomenon, it they only came out say, every hundred years.

  • Isabel Hansen

    This is truly beautiful. I love how we keep finding new things about our atmosphere. It is awful how we aren’t able to see the beautiful sky because of the factories, vehicles, fires, etc.

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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