No wonder the Sun is so angry right now – there’s a huge hole in it | Tech News

The Sun keeps firing storms our way (Picture: Getty)

A giant hole appeared on the Sun’s surface this weekend, blasting solar winds towards Earth – or did it?

Yes and no. 

The phenomenon, officially known as a ‘coronal hole’, isn’t actually a hole in the Sun’s surface. In fact, if you were looking at the Sun this weekend – with special equipment of course, not your own eyes – you wouldn’t have seen it at all.

The coronal hole itself is actually a gap in the Sun’s magnetic field, which allows more solar winds to escape. Think of a cartoon character escaping jail by bending the bars and jumping through.

But if there isn’t really a hole in the Sun, why does the picture below look, to be honest, like a massive hole?

Well, as hot gases and solar winds escape through the coronal hole, the Sun’s surface beneath it becomes cooler and less dense than the areas around it. Not cold mind, this is still the Sun.

The latest coronal hole (Picture: Nasa/SDO/SpaceWeather)

And when the Sun is viewed in ultraviolet light, as in the picture below, these cooler areas show up as black – creating the illusion of a, frankly massive, hole in the Sun.

In fact, this one is about the size of 60 Earths.

And while there’s zero chance of it swallowing Earth up, the solar winds heading in our direction could cause geomagnetic storms in our atmosphere. 

Solar winds from coronal holes travel much faster than normal Sun breezes, and when they hit Earth, can cause communication blackouts and beautiful aurora, including the Northern Lights.

All types of solar storms have battered Earth in recent months as the Sun reaches the most active part of its 11-year cycle, known as solar maximum.

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During this time there is an increase in sunspots on the surface, which can trigger solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), firing electromagnetic particles and plasma our way.

Ironically, however, coronal holes are more common during solar minimum, when the Sun is least active, meaning this week’s appearance took astronomers by surprise.

In November a giant ‘sunspot archipelago’ appeared, and is now firing solar storms our way. 

And last week Earth was hit by a huge ‘cannibal’ CME – caused when one CME catches up with another and ‘eats’ it – just days after rare orange aurora were spotted over Scotland after a ‘canyon of fire’ solar event, a solar flare that is so powerful it leaves a valley in the solar surface.

But not a hole. Because they don’t really happen.

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