NASA has released a new image of what appears to be a massive coronal hole located in the sun's topmost layer and its magnetic field. Experts believe that solar winds from this phenomenon are what have been causing the Earth to experience auroras for several nights.
The image of the giant hole was captured by the American space agency's Solar Dynamics Observatory on Oct. 10 using an ultraviolet wavelength that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
The gap observed on the magnetic field of the sun has caused it to release a particle stream capable of traveling at 500 miles per second. This stream of energy from the sun is believed to be the source of the geomagnetic storm that has affected the Earth for several days.
Coronal holes, such as the one seen last week, typically form over the poles and lower latitudes of the sun. The phenomenon occurs more often during the sun's least active point in its 11-year cycle.
The massive holes can be found in the outermost layer of the sun known as the corona, which is characterized by its lower density and cooler temperature compared to other portions of the sun.
Impact of Geomagnetic Storms on Earth
When charged particles and plasma from the corona combine with the weakened magnetic field of the sun, it results in a burst of energy in the form of solar winds. This energy stream in turn causes the formation of geomagnetic storms that can disrupt power, navigation and radio communication on Earth.
The geomagnetic storms can also produce glowing auroras, or northern lights, that can be observed in the Earth's northernmost regions but can also extend farther south in certain instances.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported last week that northern lights may be visible as far south as the states of Iowa, Oregon and Pennsylvania. However, the auroras ultimately did not appear as low as predicted.
Aside from solar winds, auroras and geomagnetic storms can also be produced by other celestial occurrences such as coronal mass ejections and solar flares. Both solar events result in the blasting of material from the sun's corona because of an increase in its magnetic activity.
Officials from the NOAA said that as the massive coronal hole continues to travel toward the western region of the sun, the solar winds that reach the Earth will remain strong. This could lead to more geomagnetic storms and auroras, which will still be visible in the Arctic Circle.