A NASA satellite has captured an odd image of the sun—it looks for all the world as if our famous star is "smiling," as the space agency puts it in a tweet. NASA explains that the dark patches making up the image are "known as coronal holes and are regions where fast solar wind gushes out into space.” Human eyes would not be able to detect them, and they're seen in the image through ultraviolet light, per NPR. All kinds of comparisons are floating around online, most notably the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters and, fittingly given the day, a jack-o-lantern, per the Guardian.
The Washington Post (which incidentally favors a comparison to the Scrub Daddy sponge) talks to University of California at San Diego physicist Brian Keating, who offers a less rosy view of things. “More so than a smiley face, its eyes are like gleaming laser beams sending particles that can cause severe disruptions to the atmosphere on Earth,” he says. On the upside, these bursts typically hit the Earth in relatively small numbers, which can produce beautiful lights in the sky, or auroras. It's possible some might even emerge on Halloween night.
But as Keating notes, if the so-called solar storms are particularly intense, they could wreak serious havoc on our tech-dependent world. No such storm on that level has occurred in nearly two centuries, back when only telegraph systems were affected, per the Post. Which means we might be overdue. “Scientists expect that to happen on average, with a couple percent probability, every year, and we’ve just dodged all these magnetic bullets for so long,” says Keating. NASA issued a "geomagnetic storm watch" over the weekend, and the effects could be seen over the next few days. (This is not the first time the sun has gotten into the Halloween spirit.)