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By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

6/21/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Coronal hole may spark geomagnetic storms on Earth.

Why is there a freaking hole in the freaking sun?! According to NASA, a massive coronal hole has spread out to cover almost a quarter of the sun. The solar wind from this hole is expected to buffet the Earth  over the weekend and could spark high-latitude geomagnetic storms.

This image from NASA shows the coronal hole, which is the dark portion in the upper left.

This image from NASA shows the coronal hole, which is the dark portion in the upper left.

Highlights

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

6/21/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Sun, hole, corona, aurora


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A coronal hole is a hole in the sun's atmosphere, and the first one was observed by astronauts onboard Skylab in the 1970s. They are a normal part of the Sun's dynamic weather, but holes of this size are very rare.

Normally, the sun's magnetic field keeps everything contained, but the sun has a very twisted and chaotic magnetic field with multiple poles, unlike the Earth and other less dynamic objects which have only two poles. This is because the sun isn't a solid object, but rather a seething ball of constantly exploding hydrogen gas.

Occasionally, those magnetic fields will tangle and arrange themselves in such a way as to leave a hole in the sun's corona, and through that hole the solar wind - material belonging to the sun that is blown about space, will stream through the hole at about 500 miles per second.

When this happens, the solar wind becomes more of a solar blizzard of fast-moving, highly charged particles.

If this unusually strong wind strikes the Earth's magnetic field, it can bend and distort it in such a way as to make geomagnetic storms more severe. Geomagnetic storms occur when the Earth is bathed extraordinary quantities of solar radiation from these charged particles, which are the phenomenon behind the aurora, or northern and southern lights.

This radiation does not hurt people on Earth, as the planet is protected by its own magnetic field that acts as a shield. However, those energetic particles can transfer energy to power grids on the ground and can overload electrical networks. Typically, power providers compensate for these events, since they can be predicted. The surge in charged particles around the Earth can also affect satellites and even astronauts if they should exit their craft for spacewalks.

The current stream of solar wind approaching Earth is expected to hit on June 22 or 23. High latitude skywatchers will likely be treated to a beautiful display of aurora. The rest of us will notice nothing out of the ordinary.

However, for NASA scientists, a hole that is alost the size of a quarter of the sun's atmosphere is pretty freaking huge, and worth a look.

Unfortunately, you and I cannot see the hole without special equipment, but NASA sure can, and oh my is it impressive!

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