NASA captured an image of a ‘giant space pumpkin’. Here’s the science behind the ‘smiling’ sun.

This year’s Halloween spirit was out of this world. Ahead of the costume-and-candy celebration, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured an image of the sun ‘smiling’ – an image that an accomplished cosmologist compared to a ‘giant space pumpkin.”

The image, which shows a glowing sun with two black holes on top of another crescent-shaped ‘smile’, was taken on October 26.

“These dark spots on the Sun, visible in UV light, are known as coronal holes and are regions where the fast solar wind is ejected into space,” NASA tweeted.

The adorable sun image was definitely a treat, but it also came with tricks. The trio of coronal holes caused a small geomagnetic storm on Saturday, with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center warning that the holes are expected to “enhance and disrupt the solar wind environment and lead to unsettled conditions.”

Coronal holes, according to NASA, are regions of the sun that appear dark because they are cooler and less dense than surrounding regions and have open magnetic fields. These features allow “streams of relatively fast solar wind” to escape more easily. Holes can develop at any time and location on the sun, and the winds can produce geomagnetic storms, rated on a scale of G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme), which have the power to disrupt power and other systems on Earth , while simultaneously affecting spaceships.

Even small storms can cause “weak fluctuations in the power grid,” according to the center, and affect satellite operations and migrating animals. These storms also cause the northern lights to become more visible further south.

In the most extreme storm, some grid systems may experience “total collapse” and an aurora may be seen as far south as Florida and southern Texas.

“Unsettled conditions” were expected to extend into Wednesday, the center said last week. As of Monday, however, no geomagnetic storms or “significant transient or recurring solar wind features” are expected. On Sunday, the center said there had been “no geomagnetic storms” in the past week.

The sun wore a similar face on Halloween in 2014, when NASA captured images of the sun that looked like eerie lantern. The somewhat tingling glow seen coming from the sun was caused by regions emitting more light and energy, NASA said at the time.

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This image shows the sun shining like a lantern. Image taken on October 8, 2014.

NASA/SDO


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