Recently a picture showing a white sphere covering a small part of the sun went viral. Parts of the vast media world were left describing the feature breathlessly as a UFO or a “mystery sphere.” Unfortunately that is not the case.
In a tweet posted by Alex Young, a heliophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland gives information about the sun and space weather using the handle @TheSunToday. It also contained a small explanation saying, “Just combination of 2 @NASA STEREO images (1 of sun, 1 of space) caused by computer error. Happens sometimes.”
There is an actual hole in the sun at the moment, but it doesn’t look anything like the white dot in the viral image. It’s actually a gigantic dark feature called a “coronal hole.” A coronal hole is a relatively cool region of the sun where its magnetic field lies open to interplanetary space, allowing the flow of particles known as the solar wind to stream forth.
The northern and southern lights can get a supercharge from Solar-wind particles caused by geomagnetic storms that spark on Earth when the coronal hole faces earth. Since late October the hole had been transiting the far side of the sun, carried around by the sun’s 27 day rotation, as reported by Spaceweather.com. In November, they were able to see that the hole is not quite the size it was a month before. “It is still impressive, covering more than one-fourth of the visible solar disk.”