The Sun put on a spooky face looking like a Jack-O-Lantern, just in time for Halloween, in a new image released by NASA on October 8.
The Scientific Visualization Studio managed by the space agency created the new photo, combining a pair of images accentuating yellow and gold wavelengths. The features seen on the Sun making up the face are active regions, releasing vast amounts of energy and gas.
"The active regions appear brighter because those are areas that emit more light and energy - markers of an intense and complex set of magnetic fields hovering in the sun's atmosphere, the corona," NASA officials wrote on the Goddard Media Studios Web site.
Such storms on the surface of the Sun can result in radiation and charged particles of matter erupting from the disturbance. These clouds of energetic material can race toward the Earth, occasionally striking our planet. These events can sometimes result in the display of slights in the sky over the poles. More extreme occurrences are capable of disrupting satellite communications, and could even cause outages in electrical equipment. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are in no danger from such eruptions, due to the low orbit of the outpost - just 205 miles above the planet. This places space travelers well within the protective cover of the Earth's magnetic field.
The Carrington Event, a solar storm which took place in 1859, was the most severe event of its type to happen so far. On September 1 and 2 that year, a solar storm on the Sun released electrically-charged material toward the Earth, in a massive eruption. When the particles struck the Earth, northern lights were so bright that gold miners in the Rocky Mountains thought dawn had arrived. In New England, the nighttime lights were bright enough to read a newspaper. Telegraph sets around the nation went haywire. While some would no longer function, others sent signals after being disconnected from power supplies, while others shocked operators.
Astronomers estimate that there is a roughly 12 percent chance that an event on the magnitude of the 1859 solar storm could strike Earth before the year 2022. Our current reliance on electronic communications and commerce could cause a similar event to have a much greater effect today than in the 19th century.
Coincidentally, the colors that are usually accompany Halloween - orange and gold - were also the same wavelengths that best accentuated the Jack-O-Lantern look of our stellar companion. In another unusual coincidence, observers on Earth were also witness to a "blood moon" on the same day the Sun appeared as a Halloween decoration.
"Coincidence? We think not," reports Alice Goolrick for Weather.com.