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NASA’s photo of the smiling Sun
Courtesy of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, via Twitter/@NASASun

At least the sun’s happy

NASA has captured an image of our home star flashing a cheeky little smile – it’s not spooky, it’s cute

The pareidolia phenomenon strikes again. This time, our tendency to find funny little faces in completely lifeless, inanimate objects has led NASA to share an image of the sun “smiling” down at us, like an IRL version of that giggling baby from Teletubbies, completely oblivious to the fact that we’re locked in a state of permacrisis.

Admittedly, the picture is pretty compelling, with three holes in the surface of the sun forming a pair of eyes underlined by a cheeky smirk. If I was an ancient hunter-gatherer and you showed me this picture, I’d lay down my spear and start worshipping the Giant Face in the Sky without question. If I lacked depth perception (or was hungry enough), I’d mistake it for the smiley faces they used to serve in school dinners, fresh out of the space oven, and try to eat it.

As it happens, I am neither an ancient hunter-gatherer or a five-month-old baby, so instead I find myself turning to NASA for a more scientific explanation, as shared on its official Twitter account for the sun. (Elon Musk is no doubt thrilled at the prospect of playing God and revoking the centre of the solar system’s blue tick – it’s only a matter of time.)

“Today, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught the sun ‘smiling’,” reads the tweet, going on to explain that the observatory captured the image via ultraviolet light. This showed the sun’s “coronal holes” – places where fast solar winds gush out into space – as dark patches, since they’re not as dense as the surrounding areas.

Should we be concerned that solar winds are blasting out into space? Well, last year researchers did warn that a significant solar storm could cause an “internet apocalypse”. However, NASA is almost constantly monitoring these winds, and they pop up frequently with little to no impact on our planet. 

Nevertheless, commenters were quick to brand the star’s smile “spooky” and “eerie”, comparing it to a carved pumpkin, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, and an Earth-eating intergalactic spirit. Now that Halloween’s over though, can we admit that the sun’s smile is actually just pretty cute? I’m happy for him.

Read more about our obsession with personifying space in Dazed’s interview with Bob Fosbury, the man who christened the Cartwheel Galaxy.