A massive “hole,” up to 20 times bigger than Earth, has appeared on the surface of the sun for the second time in a week and scientists are warning that it could impact our planet.
Last week, the Earth saw the results of the worst solar storm in six years, when a G4-class geomagnetic event lit up Canadian skies with auroras, many of which were visible as far south as New Mexico in the U.S.
Now, researchers say this new coronal hole could send solar winds at speeds of up to 2.9 million kilometres per hour toward Earth by the end of the week.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spotted the coronal hole, which is a completely normal phenomenon, but the placement of this particular hole is what makes it unique.
“This one is special because it is near the sun’s equator,” Daniel Verscharen, associate professor of space and climate physics at University College London, told SkyNews.
“Since the sun rotates, an equatorial coronal hole can point towards the Earth at some point.”
Coronal holes, NASA says, are usually harmless but can impact the Earth’s magnetic field, technology and satellites. High-altitude radio transmissions and satellite communications can be temporarily disrupted. As well, very large flares have the ability to overload electrical systems, impact airline flights and knock out energy supplies.
They can also generate aurora that is more visible to the naked eye.
Verscharen told Insider that fast winds from this particular coronal hole will likely “come to Earth around Friday night into Saturday morning of this week.”
The appearance of this latest hole has prompted the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to issue an alert and an additional chance to spot northern lights.
“Arctic auroras are likely when the solar wind arrives,” said an alert on Spaceweather.com.
Coronal holes aren’t literal holes in the Sun, but rather they are large areas that are significantly cooler than the rest of the star. They occur in places where the Sun’s magnetic field lines don’t close back on themselves, sticking out into space and leaving room for the solar wind to rush out.
According to NASA, the Sun goes through cycles of activity and right now the Sun is at its most active and, thus, is producing more coronal holes than usual.
The Sun’s solar activity has been increasing since December 2019, causing an increase in sunspots and solar flares, and is expected to peak in 2024.
And while this particular solar activity could make for some stunning aurora-spotting this weekend, scientists predict it won’t be as widely visible as last week’s incredible display of northern lights.
Last week, several coronal mass ejections happened around the same time the hold was facing Earth, leading to a more significant geomagnetic storm.