'Giant space pumpkin': NASA explains what made sun 'smile' days before Halloween
(NEXSTAR) – It may look all cute and cuddly, but the “smile” spotted in recent images of the sun triggered a geomagnetic storm watch over the weekend.
An image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory taken last Wednesday is drawing comparisons to a jack-o-lantern for the three noticeable black patches that some said looked like eyes and a toothless grin.
Astrophysicist Brian Keating quipped on Twitter, “Breaking! On Halloween Eve, NASA captures a Giant Space Pumpkin!”
“Seen in ultraviolet light, these dark patches on the Sun are known as coronal holes and are regions where fast solar wind gushes out into space,” NASA tweeted.
Less adorable than the smile, however, was a geomagnetic storm watch that went into effect Saturday as researchers monitored the coronal holes, which were “anticipated to enhance and disturb the solar wind environment and lead to unsettled conditions” and the possibility of a minor storm.
Geomagnetic storms can “can cause anomalies and disruptions to the modern conveniences we have come to rely on,” according to Weather.gov. Magnetic fields tied to the storms have been known to cause major power blackouts which can affect water and wastewater distribution systems, perishable food and medications, heating and air conditioning, computer systems, public transportation, fuel distribution and all other electrical systems.
It appears the worst-case scenario didn’t materialize, as NASA tweeted Sunday that there had been three solar flares, 23 coronal mass ejections but no geomagnetic storms in the past week.
The “smiling” sun prompted various reactions on social media, some clearly more smitten by the images than others.
“What a beauty,” one person wrote, while another added, “That smile is taking my heart.”
Others appeared disturbed by the star’s apparent expression, with one person tweeting only, “Thanks for the nightmares tonight NASA.”