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The sun shows its coronal hole
The sun shows its coronal holeVia NASA, Solar Dynamics Observatory

Giant ‘holes’ are appearing in the sun – what do they mean for our planet?

1.8 million mph solar winds are headed our way from the star’s coronal holes

You might remember the sun’s “coronal holes” from this adorable image of our home star smiling down on us like a benevolent emoji. Now, though, a new, massive hole has appeared on the solar surface amid a period of increased activity, and it’s set to send 1.8 million mph solar winds our way.

Spotted by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, it’s one of two giant coronal holes to come into view in the last couple of weeks. The first measured 30 times the size of Earth, and as it rotated away from us the second came into view, measuring around 18 to 20 Earths in width. 

What is a coronal hole, exactly? Well, the sun is made of plasma, a super-hot mix of charged particles that create a magnetic field as they’re churned around in a system known as the “solar dynamo”. Sometimes, those magnetic fields shoot out from the outer atmosphere of the sun (AKA the corona) into space, and bits of plasma escape with them on solar winds. This creates areas that are cooler and less dense, appearing to us (or scientists who have the necessary equipment to observe them) as dark spots, or holes.

For the most part, this activity tends to take place at the sun’s poles, blasting out into space with no consequences for us. This time, though, the winds are heading straight for Earth, expected to arrive on Friday night into Saturday morning. Worried? There’s probably no need to be, since scientists have said that they don’t expect the wind from this particular coronal hole to cause any damage to infrastructure, though it could trigger some particularly bright auroras, especially if paired with “coronal mass ejections”, as happened earlier in the month.

Infrastructure damage is a growing concern as the sun’s activity reaches its peak in the course of the magnetic field’s 11-year cycle, though. Back in 2021, researchers warned that a significant solar storm could cause a worldwide “internet apocalypse”, interfering with satellites, radio signals, and more. This time at least, it’s not the one, but it might be worth keeping your eyes on the skies in case there’s any trace of the storm as it collides with the chemicals in our atmosphere.

View images of the sun showing off its latest coronal hole via the Solar Dynamics Observatory, here.