Sun's coronal holes are about to release solar winds towards Earth: How will that affect us?

Coronal holes are dark spots visible on the Sun's surface where the Sun's corona is colder and less dense.


Solar winds, released by the Sun, might hit the Earth from 10 to 11 April. However, worry not, the Earth has its shield in place and the winds should not have any negative effects on the life on the planet.

This was reported by a space weather site, Spaceweather.com, after studying the data released from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)

The International Bussiness Times reported that the site claims that the coronal holes that are on the southern part of the Sun as seen in the image (below), are facing the Earth, which is why the solar winds will come our way. However, Spaceweather.com also said that the winds should not cause any negative disruptions.

outer atmosphere of the Sun - called the corona - as well as hot flare plasma. Hot active regions, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections will appear bright here. The dark areas - called coronal holes - are places where very little radiation is emitted, yet are the main source of solar wind particles. Image credit: NASA/SDO

The image shows the outer atmosphere of the Sun - called the corona - as well as hot flare plasma. Hot active regions, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections will appear bright here. The dark areas - called coronal holes - are places where very little radiation is emitted, yet are the main source of solar wind particles. Image credit: NASA/SDO

NOAA explains that coronal holes are the dark spots that are visible on the surface of the Sun. They are areas where the Sun's corona (read: the outermost part of the Sun's atmosphere) is colder and less dense. These holes are constantly changing and reshaping because the corona is not uniform and is also the area where the solar winds escape.

What are solar winds?

The Sun releases a constant stream of charged particles and magnetic fields called solar winds that travel at the speed of 400 km per second. They wash over all planets and celestial bodies and flood the entire solar system. Usually, the Earth is protected from these winds because of its own magnetic field and its convenient position as the fifth planet in the solar system. This ensures that it is far away that solar winds do not really affect it but close enough to have enough heat from the Sun to sustain all its life forms.

However, on rare occasions, these winds can make it past the barrier and have some effects on the electrical equipment on Earth. The solar winds can cause massive space weather storms that disrupt the satellites in space, our communications systems, and power grids.

When solar wind collides with Earth's magnetic field. Image courtesy: National Geophysical Data Cantre

When solar wind collides with Earth's magnetic field. Image courtesy: National Geophysical Data Cantre

Heard of the aurora borealis? This natural and spectacular phenomenon that takes place on the north and south poles are also caused by the solar winds interacting with the Earth's magnetic field and the oxygen and nitrogen ions trapped in it.

The moon does not have a magnetic field and is exposed and absorbs any and all radiation that comes its way. The only protection it has is from small magnetic rocks on its surface that provide the lunar surface with small, localised pockets of protection from these winds. Similar to human beings getting a sunburn from staying outside for too long, the moon also gets a kind of sunburn. Instead of looking splotchy and red like we do, the moon gets swirls on its surface. Scientists also believe that solar winds could be one reason why the moon has water-ice on its surface.

Studying the effects of solar winds can also help space agencies find the best way to protect its astronauts, from radiation, when they travel to the moon and beyond. They can suffer serious health issues if they are caught in the path of a solar storm without sufficient protection. Different space agencies also send their satellites, spacecrafts, and other research missions to space and it is also important that they can are protected and that they are made from materials that can stand the rigours of space. By studying solar winds, researchers can develop protective gear or materials that can withstand the high levels of radiation.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory

The SDO just completed its 10th year in space even though its original mission life was for five years. Throughout its time in space, the SDO has been constantly looking at the Sun to understand space weather and its effects it has on Earth. Its main mission is to help us understand where the Sun's energy comes from, how the inside Sun works, and how is its energy is stored and released. Recently, NASA released the ten things we have learnt from the observatory's data that included solar flares, tornadoes as well as coronal holes and the birth and death of a solar cycle.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory Satellite studies all aspects of the Sun. Image credit: NASA

The Solar Dynamics Observatory Satellite studies all aspects of the Sun. Image credit: NASA

According to NASA, the Sun is a huge ball of electrically-charged hot gas and this gas moves, generating a powerful magnetic field. The Sun's magnetic field goes through a cycle every 11 years which is called the solar cycle.


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