The sun is shining — but is it smiling?
NASA shared an image in which the star at the center of our solar system appeared to be grinning back at the planets, with three dark spots making up what resembled a happy face.
“Today, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught the Sun ‘smiling,'” the agency tweeted. “Seen in ultraviolet light, these dark patches on the Sun are known as coronal holes and are regions where fast solar wind gushes out into space.”
The coronal holes are somewhat cooler sections of the sun’s outer layer, reports The Washington Post.
“We’re talking about a few hundred degrees, so it’s not like some ski resort,” Brian Keating, a physics professor at the University of California at San Diego, told the paper. “But because they’re so dark and because we’re looking at it in ultraviolet radiation, which the naked eye can’t see, the [NASA satellite] sees them as dark holes.”
And while the sun may look happy, its “smile” could upset some systems here at home, Keating added.
“More so than a smiley face, its eyes are like gleaming laser beams sending particles that can cause severe disruptions to the atmosphere on Earth,” he said.
Problems could arise if these small particles — protons, electrons and others — arrive at Earth in huge quantities, the scientist said, which might cause mayhem with communication systems. A severe solar storm can even damage electrical grids.
The smiling sun is not a new phenomenon.
In October 2014, NASA released an image of the grinning star, dubbing the Halloween-pegged picture “Pumpkin Sun.”
In 2019, NASA re-shared the photo of the sun looking eerily like a freshly carved jack-o’-lantern.
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“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,” the agency wrote on Facebook.
As NASA explained at the time, the active regions appeared brighter in the photo — which was snapped on Oct. 8, 2014 — because they were emitting more light and energy.