Fact Check: Is there a giant hole in the sun causing it to explode? Dangers of coronal holes explored as tweet goes viral
A coronal hole the size of approximately 60 Earths was observed in the sun's atmosphere on Sunday, December 2, 2023. This temporary phenomenon has left many wondering if the sun is going to explode, causing a widespread panic amongst netizens.
On December 6, X user @dom_lucre, shared a post, stating:
"BREAKING: The Giant hole in the sun is now bigger than 60 Earths and is currently exploding."
The post went viral with over 5.7 million views and over 17 thousand likes, sparking chaos and confusion. However, the coronal hole is not an actual hole in our star and is a common phenomenon on the solar surface. It is, therefore, not causing the sun to explode.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Coronal holes appear when the magnetic fields surrounding the sun open up. While not visible to the naked eye, they can be observed as dark patches under ultraviolet light due to the area being cooler and less dense than its surroundings.
The sun goes through an activity cycle that escalates to a peak or the solar maximum
Activities on the surface of the sun like solar flares, sunspots, coronal mass ejections, and coronal holes are common phenomena.
Our star goes through a cycle of escalating activities on its surface, reaching a peak, called the solar maximum, before it subsides towards a solar minimum. According to Science Alert, solar minimum is a period marked by "relative calm and minimal activity." These cycles last roughly 11 years.
As per NOAA, because the magnetic fields open up during coronal holes, solar winds readily escape from the solar surface, releasing "powerful streams of unusually fast radiation." These faster-than-normal solar winds could trigger disturbances when met with the Earth's magnetic field, causing geomagnetic storms.
Geo storms could disrupt power grids, radio communications, and navigational systems. It can even affect animals that rely on Earth's magnetic field to navigate. Northern Lights or Aurora too is seen during a geo storm.
The current coronal hole, 800,000 kilometers wide, has been pointing directly toward the Earch since December 4. However, NOAA predicted it would be a G1 to G2 level of solar storms, which would not be noticeable to most.
A Minor or G1 storm can cause fluctuation in power grids and a minor impact on satellites. Effects are also seen in migratory animals. A moderate or G2 level can cause radio disturbances and auroral display. It can cause transformer damage in higher latitude areas.
At its extreme or G5, a geo storm can cause significant damage or complete collapse of power systems, leading to a blackout. Spacecraft operations would be disrupted. Radio systems and navigational systems could be degraded for days.
The last coronal hole appeared in March 2023 and was 20 times the size of the Earth and triggered a G4-level storm with purple and green auroras. In 2018, the Parker Solar Probe was launched towards our star to better understand these solar activities and mitigate their effects.
Scientists have predicted that the Solar maximum will occur in early 2024.