For the second time in a week, a massive hole in the sun’s surface capable of generating a million miles per hour of solar wind has appeared.
It’s called a coronal hole — this one is 20 times larger than Earth.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spotted it, and it could send a superfast 1.8 million-mile-per-hour solar wind on our planet as early as Thursday.
In fact, the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter has detected the wind — as of Wednesday morning, it’s traveling at about 700 kilometers per second before reaching Earth.
It comes a week after the observation of a much larger coronal hole, which unleashed winds so powerful they caused stunning auroras in parts of the world.
But they also have potential impacts on some infrastructure, primarily satellites in Earth orbit.
This week’s coronal hole is not expected to cause such damage — but scientists say we’re in a period of heightened activity that we may need to be wary of.
Wait, are coronal holes a sign of trouble?
Usually not—in fact, they’re perfectly normal.
As if to emphasize the point, Last year NASA shared an image of three holes, making it look as if the sun is smiling at us.
They are a relatively common feature of the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, says Daniel Verscharen, associate professor of space and climate physics at UCL.
“This planet is special because it is close to the sun’s equator,” he told Sky News.
“Because of the sun’s rotation, the equatorial coronal hole could point toward Earth at some point.”
However, the increased solar activity we’ve seen over the past week is a sign that the sun is more active.
These periods, known as solar maxima, occur every 11 years or so – triggering more voids and more important phenomena such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
Prof Verscharen describes it as the sun “waking up”.
What effect does the solar wind have?
The solar wind is a jet of plasma fired at super-velocity — 700 or 800 kilometers per second.
If you’re looking for a new phone background, this could be good news because – when those winds collide with Earth’s charged atmosphere – the result could be some very bright auroras.
These beautiful natural sky shows are famous for the Northern Lights.
They sure look a lot prettier than the coronal holes themselves, which look like hell (unless they’re lined up like smiling faces).
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors space weather, said they appear so dark because they are relatively cooler and less dense than the region around the sun.
Unfortunately, Prof Verscharen said this latest hole is unlikely to result in particularly bright auroras.
What about satellites?
This is the main concern surrounding intense solar activity.
Those CMEs mentioned above cause massive ejections of plasma and magnetic fields, and the ensuing geomagnetic storms sometimes affect satellite communications, which could become more disruptive as humans become more dependent on them.
in the past, A solar storm forces flights to be diverted.
The largest such storm on record was known as the Carrington Event, which struck Earth in 1859 and caused telegraph systems in the United States and Europe to malfunction.
We now have more technology that would be affected by such events.
Will energy on Earth be wiped out by solar storms?
What else should you be aware of?
If you’re an aurora watcher, this “wake up” period we’re in right now is like hitting the jackpot.
“Equatorial coronal holes, coronal mass ejections, and auroras are more likely to occur in the coming years,” said Prof Verscharen.
But what might make for a pretty light show for some might be life-threatening for others.
The amount of radiation emitted by the sun can be extremely dangerous to astronauts outside the protection of Earth’s ionosphere, the place where Earth’s atmosphere meets space.
When the ISS falls within that boundary, any trip to the moon and beyond will pass by it — and NASA hopes to do just that in the next few years.