In an unlikely marriage of cutting-edge science and centuries-old superstition, NASA has released a picture that, with a tiny bit of imagination, shows the sun grinning like your neighbor’s badly cut Halloween jack-o-lantern.
The active regions of our sun have been captured in a photo taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Obervatory (SDO). These regions emit more light and energy, which makes them appear brighter than surrounding areas. This is due to the complicated set of magnetic fields in the sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona.
It just so happened that approaching the spookiest holiday of the year, the active areas aligned to form an expression most often seen on carved pumpkins.
Solar Dynamics Observatory
The SDO was launched as part of NASA’s Living With a Star (LWS) program, which aims to study the causes of solar variability and the impact it has on Earth. The idea is that by studying the sun, researchers will be able to better predict space weather, which can affect us here on Earth.
Changes in space weather are mainly caused by solar flares and coronal mass injections, which can interfere with radio signals and other technology on Earth if they are strong enough.
In this latest image, NASA has blended two wavelengths, 171 and 193 Angstroms, together. They were then colorized in gold and yellow to give the picture an especially pertinent appearance given the upcoming holiday.
Sun’s invisible wavelengths
Despite the fact that our eyes see the sun as yellow, because it is the brightest wavelength emitted by the sun, our star emits light of every color. The ground- and space-based telescopes used by NASA allow us to see the sun in wavelengths that are invisible to the naked eye.
The sun may have been a few weeks early in displaying its enthusiasm for Halloween, but it should certainly inspire us earthlings to some jack-o-lantern creativity.