A "hole" in the sun's atmosphere may produce a dazzling light show on Earth in the coming days.
A moderate aurora watch is in effect Friday (March 24) for higher latitudes of Earth due to a coronal hole, an opening in the sun's magnetic field, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
When these holes open in the corona, the sun's upper atmosphere, they allow an increased flow of the charged-particle stream known as the solar wind. In similar situations, coronal holes have led to auroral displays as far south as New York and Idaho, according to spaceweather.com.
The sun has been busy in recent months as it climbs toward an expected 2025 peak of its 11-year activity cycle. For example, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory recently spotted a gigantic "tornado" swirling across the sun's north pole.
For three days last week, boiling plasma rose high above the sun's surface, peaking at a height of 14 Earths or about 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers) on March 18. When the tornado collapsed, the ejected material did not fly toward our planet, however.
Most solar activity is harmless, boosting auroras and causing minor radio blackouts, but NASA, NOAA and other groups keep a 24/7 watch on the sun just in case. Strong solar storms can occasionally short out satellites or affect electrical power supplies, like a blackout in Quebec, Canada that took place in 1989.
In recent years, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have also launched satellites that swoop close to the sun to examine its corona and structures on the surface. NASA's Parker Solar Probe and ESA's Solar Orbiter seek to better understand the makeup of the sun to improve space weather forecasts and continue to protect our planet and its environs spacecraft and humans alike.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace