The biggest pumpkin of all! NASA shares creepy Halloween photo of the sun glowing with a jack-o’-lantern face
- Active regions on the sun’s surface created the grimacing smile and slanted eyes
- ‘Face’ glowed on the sun’s surface in 2014 when activity reached solar maximum
- NASA believes sun is now at solar minimum which causes colder temperatures
A spooky photo appearing to show the sun glowing with a Halloween pumpkin face has been shared by NASA ahead of All Hallows’ Eve on October 31.
Active regions on the sun’s surface created the grimacing smile and slanted eyes on the biggest ‘pumpkin’ of all.
The haunting illuminated ‘face’ smouldered on the sun’s surface in 2014 when activity reached ‘solar maximum’, meaning more sun spots occurred.
The haunting illuminated ‘face’ glowed on the sun’s surface in 2014 when activity reached ‘solar maximum’ meaning more sun spots occurred
NASA posted the image along with the caption: ‘Even our star celebrates the spooky season — in 2014, active regions on the Sun created this jack-o’-lantern face, as seen in ultraviolet light by our Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite.’
A real pumpkin carved into a creepy Halloween lantern face
The image blends together two sets of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths at 171 and 193 Ångströms, (colourised in gold and yellow), to create a particularly Halloween-like appearance.
It was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which has monitored the sun from its orbit in space since 2010.
The sun witnessed a high number of sunspots in 2014, NASA said the minimum would strike from 2019 to 2020.
Astronomers typically associate periods of solar minimums with colder temperatures because the ‘natural heating mechanism’ of the sun subsides.
When the sun leaps back from its minimum after roughly 11 years, we’re likely to see more and more ferocious explosions on the sun.
At the cycle’s peak, solar maximum, the sun is continually peppered with spots, pictured, some as big as the planet Jupiter. But at its minimum, months can go by without a single sunspot and its magnetic field weakens meaning that more energy is being thrown towards the Earth
The sun entered a solar minimum between 1650 and 1710, causing the Earth to be plunged into a ‘deep freeze’, said NASA.
WHAT CAUSES THE SOLAR CYCLE?
The sun goes through an 11-year cycle where it goes from very active to less active.
It is tracked by sunspots and it is currently going through a quiet phase.
Researchers from Germany have published a recent study claiming it may be caused by the matching gravitational fields of Venus, Earth and Jupiter.
This happens only once every 11.07 years and is likely the cause of switching in the solar cycle.
The sloshing of the plasma may only be disturbed by one millimetre but this is enough to alter its movement on a wider scale, they claim.
NASA said: ‘1650 to 1710, temperatures across much of the Northern Hemisphere plunged when the sun entered a quiet phase now called the Maunder Minimum.
‘During this period, very few sunspots appeared on the surface of the sun, and the overall brightness of the sun decreased slightly.
‘Already in the midst of a colder-than-average period called the Little Ice Age, Europe and North America went into a deep freeze: alpine glaciers extended over valley farmland; sea ice crept south from the Arctic; and the famous canals in the Netherlands froze regularly—an event that is rare today.’
The sun swings from a solar maximum to a solar minimum every eleven years.
During the maximum, sunspots and solar flares spike in intensity, producing warmer temperatures up and down the planet.
According to NASA, solar minimum could also enhance the effects of space weather, potentially disrupting communications and navigation systems, and even causing space junk to ‘hang around.’
WHY DO FEWER SUNSPOTS CAUSE MORE PROBLEMS ON EARTH?
Lack of sunspot activity in the sun is due to a continuing period of inactivity in the star’s magnetic field.
As the sun moves through its 11-year cycle, it experiences active and quiet periods known as the solar maximum and solar minimum.
As solar minimum approaches, certain types of activity – such as sunspots and solar flares – will drop, but it’s also expected to increase long-lived phenomena.
This includes coronal holes, where fast moving solar winds are created when the star’s magnetic field opens up into space. This happens more regularly as the sun’s magnetic field becomes less active.
Strong solar winds emanating from three massive ‘holes’ on the surface of the sun have begun to bombard Earth, scientists say. Fast moving solar winds are created where the star’s magnetic field opens up into space, pictured here as vast black regions
Charged particles make their way out into the solar system through these gaps and hit the atmosphere of our planet.
This can lead to a number of complications, including magnetic storms which can result in power grid fluctuations, impact on satellite operations and can affect migratory animals.
An increase in solar winds can also alter the chemistry of Earth’s upper atmosphere, which may trigger more lightning and aid in cloud formation.
It can also affect air travel, as more radiation is able to penetrate planes. This means passengers on long-haul flights may receive doses of radiation similar to dental X-rays during a single trip, and puts flight crews in additional danger.
The effects of solar minimum may also include Earth’s upper atmosphere cooling and shrinking slightly, thanks to less heat reaching the planet. This can allow space junk to accumulate in low Earth orbit.