India’s seasonal pollution might appear to have dimmed its radiance, but the Sun will let us know it is the original super star. An image shared by NASA on its Instagram page on Halloween shows it in all its ghoulish splendour — burning gashes for eyes and a blazing half-moon of a smile, so sinister it could give Pennywise the chilling clown in Stephen King’s It (1986) a run for its money.
The solar jack-o-lantern, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in October 2014, illumines active regions of the celestial body — places where the disturbance in the Sun’s network of magnetic field spawns greater solar activity, including coronal mass ejections and solar flares, and, as a result, generate more light and energy in comparison to their surroundings. The dark patches on the Sun are coronal holes seen in ultraviolet light, from where solar wind surges into space.
While the mysteries of the solar system are nowhere near complete revelation, remarkable insights have been gleaned over the last decade. Since its launch in 2010, the SDO, part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program, has been analysing solar activity and its impact on Earth. In December 2021, NASA announced a “giant leap for solar science” — a spacecraft, Parker Solar Probe, had flown through the Sun’s upper atmosphere for the first time ever, getting up close to the magnetic fields that make up the Sun’s corona. Yet, beyond all the scientific advancement, the massive spinning heart of the solar system also occupies a central role in our imagination — as a bestower of light, life and perspective, of course, but also, as the recent post showed, as the stuff of banter and eerie thrills.