This week, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) caught an ultraviolet picture of the sun with three black spots that resemble a smiling face; this face may be a harbinger of a solar storm that might cause issues for Earth.
A small geomagnetic storm watch has been issued for Saturday by the Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While geomagnetic storms may produce stunning auroras in the sky, they can also interfere with GPS and cause dangerous currents to flow through the electricity system and pipelines.
The coronal holes, which are black patches, are places where solar wind escapes into space more rapidly and easily, keeping those places colder. According to the Exploratorium, a museum in San Francisco, these winds may reach speeds of up to 1.8 million miles per hour.
People took advantage of the chance to create memes and change the smiling sun to resemble a pumpkin or the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from the Ghostbusters series.
In 2014, NASA acquired pictures of the sun that similarly resembled jack-o-lanterns and gave them the name “Pumpkin Sun.” The sun’s active regions, which are what made up the jack-o-face, lantern’s indicate magnetic field disruptions that give rise to solar storms like solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
Solar physicists employ telescopes that can picture the sun in the extreme ultraviolet spectrum since the human eye cannot see certain wavelengths of sunlight. SDO highlights a specific region of the sun’s atmosphere using 13 distinct light wavelengths.
According to Joseph Gurman, a scientist at the Solar Data Analysis Center at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, “Ultraviolet light from the sun can show us the origins of solar storms that can lead to power outages, cell phone disruptions, and delays in shipping packages due to the rerouting of planes from over the pole.”
The photograph from Wednesday was captured at 193 angstrom light, giving it a yellowish-pale orange tint. According to NASA, the 2014 photo was obtained at a combination of 171 and 193 angstrom light, which colored the sun in gold and yellow “to produce a Halloween-like effect.”
Both pictures were taken in October, just in time for Halloween.