With fall in the air and Halloween around the corner, pumpkins and pumpkin spice everything are everywhere. Even, apparently, on the Sun. Images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) this week show what almost looks like the Sun dressed for the season as a jack-o-lantern.
The SDO has three instruments. The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager studies the magnetic field on the Sun’s surface. The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly is designed to study the solar corona, taking images 1.3 solar diameters in multiple wavelengths. The Extreme ultraviolet Variability Experiment is designed to investigate the varying spectrum of the Sun’s radiant energy and its interaction with the environment.
The goal of the SDO is to combine the data from these three instruments to improve our understanding of the solar physics that drives activity in the Sun’s atmosphere, which in turn drives space weather in the heliosphere and on the surface of planets. The Sun’s activities directly impact our own environment. But the SDO spacecraft also takes some of the most incredible images that show the Sun’s activities in absolutely breathtaking detail. That glowing ball in our sky is far more active that we can see.
What the jack-o-lantern image actually shows is solar activity. Active regions on the Sun’s face appear brighter than the surrounding area because these areas emit more light and energy. These spots are markers of intense and complex magnetic fields hovering about the Sun’s outer atmosphere called the corona.
This particular image merges two wavelengths, 171 and 193 Angstroms (on the left and right respectively in the image above), which are usually colored gold and yellow. That image data combined gives a deep orange and black image for that wonderful Halloween-like look:
So if you’re scrambling for a last minute Halloween costume, why not go as the jack-o-lantern Sun?
All images, including feature, credit NASA/SDO