Has the Sun blown its top?

By Tom Yulsman | July 5, 2017 2:02 pm

It sure looks that way in this animation showing the Sun up close and personal. And there are two other ‘holes’ visible as well.

A big dark area in the north polar region makes it appear as if the Sun has blown its top. And in a way, it has.

You can see what’s going on by watching the animation above. It’s based on data acquired by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft over 48 hours, starting on July 3rd and continuing into today (the 5th). Two other large dark areas are visible as well, including one in the south polar region and another along the equator.

What you’re looking at is a trio of “coronal holes,” dark regions of the corona — the Sun’s outer atmosphere. The images that go into the animation were acquired in the extreme ultraviolet part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which highlights the corona as well as hot plasma from flares.

The dark coronal holes are places where very little radiation is being emitted. Here, the Sun’s magnetic field lines open outward into space. The following image allows us to visualize what that looks like:


Source: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

In this graphical representation, field lines emerge from the Sun, reach high above it, and then reconnect. But in the polar regions, where two of the coronal holes are located, those field lines open outward.

This opening of the field lines greatly enhances the solar wind, which consists of high energy particles that stream outward into space. With so much hot material blowing outward, a darkened area is left behind — a coronal hole.

Let’s take a closer look at the Sun, and in a slightly different wavelength:


Source: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

We’re still seeing things in the extreme ultraviolet part of the spectrum, but the wavelength here is 211 angstroms versus 193 in the previous imagery. This view reveals the equatorial coronal hole to be even bigger, and it may even connect with the north polar one, creating a single, giant coronal hole. It will be interesting to see how things develop in the next few days.

Coronal holes aren’t just cool things to look at. The enhanced solar wind that flows from them can cause storms in the Earth’s protective magnetic bubble. These geomagnetic storms can cause aurorae at lower latitudes than usual. They also have the potential to damage communication networks, power grids, and other systems.

Our geomagnetic field is currently quiet. And fortunately, the forecast for the next couple of days from NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center is for nothing serious — just occasional unsettled periods.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: select, Sun, Top Posts
  • OWilson

    The answer to that question can be found in your previous article, “Has The Sun Blown Its Top, Again?” – November, 2015.

    A large part of AGW depends on the assumption that the Sun (the source of most of the Earth’s external heat), is relatively constant.

    A few Top Blowing Suns, and pretty soon you have a force to be reckoned with! :)

    And, we wouldn’t be here to ask the question! :)

  • George Burdell

    man, this country is great!

  • Cjones1

    Knowledge of the Sun and the effects on the planets is limited. If climate history is cyclical and we are doomed to relive it, it is likely we will enter into a Little Ice Age similar to the Maunder or Dalton minimums starting around late 2019 as the sunspot cycle continues a downward trend.
    Throw in a volcano or two as Earth flexes in response or Taureid bolide close encounters, as charted by Czech scientists recently, and we could be looking at catastrophic events.
    We have spent too much time and money on AGW concerns when we should have spent more time on recurring natural events chronicled in the layers of climate history.

    • Michael Duke

      Don’t borrow trouble. We’ll be sweating and treading water for another 50,000 years. Then again, the asphalt roads are burning in Yellowstone…”Friday the 13th, 2029. Asteroid 2004 MN4 will come really close to Earth”. We’ll see.

  • Erik Bosma

    Let’s spread the fear, brothers and sisters, there’s plenty to go around.

    • Erik Bosma

      Now…. hmmmmm, How can I make a truckload of money of it.

      • Erik Bosma

        Whoops – ‘off’ it.

        • OWilson

          If you are serious about it, you could:

          Get lots of government and academic grants to study it in your own sweet time.

          You could write about it. The scarier, the more chance of being published!

          You could flog “solutions” to the great unwashed, like Al Gore.

          You could use Global Warming to get elected if you are a Left Wing politician. (They love the Transfer of Wealth part) :)

          If you are a vocal enough true believer in public life, culture, entertainment, academia or government service, you may be invited to all expense paid junkets to plan on how to keep the scam going, against all “deniers”, and skeptical government officials who have to wrestle with budget priorities.

          There are still lots of career opportunities. It has been a cottage industry, but lately some weakness has been notice due to the inevitable fact that when you promise Armageddon, you at some point have to deliver it!

          Otherwise folks lose interest and will wander off to the next public fad!

  • Chuckiechan

    Things were just fine before Trump!

    • Gette

      Exactly. The trump card has been played; re-read Cjones1’s explanation. Everything is cyclical. It was time.

  • Erik Bowen

    The Earth does have human caused warming regardless of the sun. You want absolute proof? Go lay in a grassy field on a hot summer day. Now go lay om an asphalt road on a hot summer day. Now try and tell someone that the human made road Earth surface felt the same temperature as the natural one. Now stand in the same field as away from any human influence. Now stand in the field near a road with lots of traffic and measure the temperature. Now multiply the temperature difference by the number of roads in Manhattan, Chicago, Los Angeles, Saint Louis, Mexico City, Caracas, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Beijing, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Moscow, Johannesburg, Cairo, Rome… Hell, (you could leave the cars out of it) (there are Billions of people on the planet) just the heat of our breath is probably greater than a small volcano. Then throw in millions of cars, hot roads, and industry and it is a miracle we live on a planet that hasn’t already been destroyed by heat…

    • Erik Bowen

      The polar regions have been absorbing that heat. So what happens when the polar regions can not absorb significantly more heat? You know that dinosaur you always wanted…. And that giant mosquito you always dreaded…

    • Gette

      😂😂😂 We’ve been polluting the earth and she is mad at us, but she isn’t the reason for global warming. That’s completely the sun and cyclical time. What you’re talking about is still minuscule as opposed to the sun’s power. We’re like flies on a horse who are swarming and making hot spots, but the horse can shake us off and heal herself with proper wound care. We aren’t heating the earth. That’s the sun and the electromagnetic correspondence.



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.


See More


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar