Huge Coronal Hole Is Sending Solar Wind Our Way

by Jason Major on March 13, 2012

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SDO AIA 211 image showing a large triangular hole in the Sun's corona on March 13

An enormous triangular hole in the Sun’s corona was captured earlier today by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, seen above from the AIA 211 imaging assembly. This gap in the Sun’s atmosphere is allowing more charged solar particles to stream out into the Solar System… and toward Earth as well.

Normally, loops of magnetic energy keep much of the Sun’s outward flow of gas contained. Coronal holes are regions — sometimes very large regions, such as the one witnessed today — where the magnetic fields don’t loop back onto the Sun but instead stream outwards, creating channels for solar material to escape.

The material constantly flowing outward is called the solar wind, which typically “blows” at around 250 miles (400 km) per second. When a coronal hole is present, though, the wind speed can double to nearly 500 miles (800 km) per second.

Increased geomagnetic activity and even geomagnetic storms may occur once the gustier solar wind reaches Earth, possibly within two to three days.

The holes appear dark in SDO images because they are cooler than the rest of the corona, which is extremely hot — aroundĀ 1,000,000 C (1,800,000 F)!

Here’s another image, this one in another AIA channel (193):

AIA 193 image of the March 13 coronal hole

Keep up with the Sun’s latest activity and see more images on NASA’s SDO site here.

Images courtesy NASA, SDO and the AIA science team.


A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

Kawarthajon March 13, 2012 at 7:36 PM

So, does this mean we’ll get good aurorae in the Northern latitudes when this reaches our area? I have been unlucky so far, because it has been cloudy in my area after solar storms so I have missed out. It would be great to have another chance.

Jason Major March 13, 2012 at 9:24 PM

It’s a possibility. Stay tuned to resources like

Bill Schlosser March 14, 2012 at 2:39 AM

Looks like the Eye of Sauron…

Thrundal Swanson March 16, 2012 at 12:55 AM

That’s a pretty hot eye.

Dima R March 14, 2012 at 5:41 AM

Waw, our sun is so hot!
I always wondered if it’s physically possible to drop some kind of robotic explorer or diver into the sun and get high resolution pics from the inside of the sun?

Jai Ankers March 14, 2012 at 9:53 AM

At 1million degrees Celsius I doubt it.

squidgeny March 14, 2012 at 12:32 PM

And even if you could, you wouldn’t get very good pictures – the interior of the Sun isn’t transparent (it’s so opaque, in fact, that it takes millions of years for a photon to get out!)

Olaf2 March 14, 2012 at 6:20 PM

Well you could use Metaphasic shield ;-)

David Brown March 14, 2012 at 5:57 AM

Ummm… how the hell is this so symmetrical?

squidgeny March 14, 2012 at 12:33 PM

I’m not seeing any symmetry… can you describe it?

David Brown March 15, 2012 at 4:19 AM

Sure, I can describe it, but if you’re not seeing it, then all the description in the world is moot.

squidgeny March 15, 2012 at 1:00 PM

Well, what I mean is, where is the line of symmetry?

David Brown March 15, 2012 at 4:22 PM

It runs from the vertex angle to the center of the base.

David Krauss March 14, 2012 at 9:02 AM

There’s a hole in the sun! It’s going to go out unless we send in a piloted nuclear bomb!

Seriously, that’s huge. Is it going to increase the sunburn-causing UV on the ground?

squidgeny March 14, 2012 at 12:35 PM

I’m not certain but I don’t think these events affect the light output of the Sun – they just spew out material instead

GBendt March 14, 2012 at 11:57 AM

A coronal is not a hole in the sun, it is the hole in the corona, the sunĀ“s very hot and very faint outer atmosphere.

layman07 March 14, 2012 at 12:41 PM

there is a laughing human face … sun man.

Ignoramus1 March 14, 2012 at 2:28 PM

Is there any good explanation for those improbably straight lines except for a freakish accident?

David Brown March 15, 2012 at 4:20 AM

There are probably many explanations, but none of them “good”

Christopher Rutigliano March 14, 2012 at 10:11 PM

can you see any x flares from a coronal hole? I mean can the produce bigger storm than AR14329 did a week ago?

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