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The Sun Opened Up a Solar Wind-Spewing Coronal Hole 60 Times the Size of Earth
The giant hole in the surface of the Sun is nothing to worry about. Promise.
In NBC’s La Brea (streaming now on Peacock), a group of unsuspecting people are swept up in adventure when a sinkhole swallows part of Los Angeles. It happens sometimes, through processes which are difficult to predict, but it’s inconvenient at best and disastrous at worst. There’s never really a good time or place to punch a hole in the Earth.
Holes in the Earth are one thing but holes in the Sun are something else entirely. Earlier this week, a giant hole opened up in the face of the Sun, unleashing powerful streams of electromagnetic material onto our planet. It sounds like the beginning of the end of the world, but it’s an ordinary phenomenon called coronal holes which are fascinating but not dangerous.
A Gigantic Coronal Hole Stretches Across the Face of the Sun
They look like gigantic chasms opening up on the surface of the Sun, at least if you know how to look for them. Coronal holes can’t be seen in visible light, but show up when we look at the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. They show up as comparatively dark regions of roiling plasma; the darkness comes from them being colder and less dense than the surrounding material.
Coronal holes represent areas of the Sun’s surface where the powerful electromagnetic field has opened up, unleashing intense streams of solar wind particles. Because they can drive an uptick in the solar wind, space weather forecasters pay attention to coronal holes when predicting geomagnetic storms. Consequently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Space Weather Prediction Center issued a G1 - G2 (minor to moderate) geomagnetic storm warning for December 4 and 5. That’s the sort of storm ordinary folks won’t even notice, but increased solar winds can generate aurorae which are more intense than usual.
This particular coronal hole was an absolute beast, stretching nearly 800,000 kilometers (497,000 miles) across at its longest points. That’s enough to fit more than 60 Earths laid out side by side in a line. A massive hole blooming on the Sun and pointing itself in our direction has generated spooky headlines and more than a little anxiety, but it’s not worth losing sleep over.
In October of 2022, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO for short, the same observatory responsible for the recent observations) sent back images (see above) of three coronal holes arranged like a smiling face. And not just any smiling face, but an absolutely adorable smiling face. At the time, no one was worried about solar wind beams coming our way, we were all just psyched that the Sun was having a good day. The only real difference is that this coronal hole isn’t as cute, but it’s approximately as harmless.
If you’re looking for dangerous holes, look down. La Brea is streaming right now on Peacock.