NASA captured an image of a “giant space pumpkin”. Here’s the science behind the “smiling” sun.

This year’s Halloween spirit was out of this world. Ahead of the costume-and-candy-filled celebration, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured an image of the “smiling” sun – an image the acclaimed cosmologist likened to a “giant space pumpkin.”

The image, which shows a bright sun with two black holes above another crescent-shaped “smile”, was captured on October 26.

“Viewed in ultraviolet light, these dark spots on the Sun are known as coronal holes and are regions where the fast solar wind shoots out into space,” NASA tweeted.

The adorable image of the sun was certainly a treat, but it also had some tricks. The trio of coronal holes triggered a minor geomagnetic storm watch on Saturday, with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center warning that the holes were expected to “enhance and disrupt the solar wind environment and lead to unstable conditions”.

According to NASA, coronal holes are areas of the sun that appear dark because they are cooler and less dense than surrounding regions and have open magnetic fields. These features allow “relatively fast solar wind streams” to escape more easily. Holes can develop anytime and anywhere on the sun and winds can cause geomagnetic storms, rated on a scale of G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme), which have the power to disrupt power and d other systems on Earth while also impacting spacecraft operations.

Even minor storms can cause “small power grid fluctuations”, according to the center, and impact satellite operations and migrating animals. These storms also make the Northern Lights more visible farther south.

In the most extreme storm, some grid systems may experience “complete collapse” and an aurora can be seen as far south as Florida and southern Texas.

The “unstable conditions” are expected to last until Wednesday, the center said last week. As of Monday, however, no geomagnetic storms or “significant transient or recurring solar wind features” are expected. On Sunday, the center said there had been “no geomagnetic storms” in the past week.

The sun took on a similar face to Halloween in 2014, when NASA captured images of the sun resembling a weird halloween pumpkin. The somewhat pungent glow that was seen emerging from the sun was caused by areas that were emitting more light and energy, NASA said at the time.

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This image shows the sun shining like a jack-o’-lantern. Image taken October 8, 2014.

NASA/ODS


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