Every once in a while, we get reminded that our Sun is a giant nuclear furnace in space with the potential to disrupt life on Earth.
This is sort of one of those times, although we’ve probably not got much to worry about.
On December 1 and 2, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft saw a large “coronal hole” rotate into view on the Sun. These are regions of the Sun where the magnetic field lines stretch into space, allowing hot gas to escape.
This creates a visible black spot on the Sun, where the temperature is cooler, and can also cause solar wind to escape at high speeds.
If one of these holes is pointed towards Earth, it can cause some problems. The hot gases, which travel faster than the solar wind, can cause geomagnetic storms, playing havoc with satellites and even power grids. It also increases auroral activity at the poles, which is nice.
NASA said in a week or so, this particular coronal hole may be pointed towards Earth, sending streams of particles our way. Fear not, though – it’s highly unlikely to cause any severe disruptions. Also, we’re pretty good at monitoring and mitigating against solar storms, by switching off satellites or power grids if we need to.
So, instead, maybe consider how frickin’ awesome a giant hole on the Sun is. Come on. That’s pretty cool.