It turns out that anyone who drew a smiley-faced sun as a kid has been scientifically proved — somewhat — right. Last week, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured an image of the biggest object in our solar system looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters,” the baby-faced “Teletubbies” sun or a jack-o’-lantern (if you’re into the Halloween spirit).
But what looks like a Scrub Daddy sponge set ablaze might not be as cute as it appears. For us here on Earth, the solar emoji could produce a beautiful aurora sighting — or it could signal problems for the planet’s telecommunications systems.
The sun is, in essence, “the largest nuclear reactor in our solar system,” said Brian Keating, a physics professor at the University of California at San Diego. There’s a flurry of action happening every second in the massive, spinning, glowing ball of hot gas — from the conversion of hydrogen into helium, which gives off the same amount of heat as several nuclear bombs, to electrical storms and sunquakes.
Some of that solar activity was photographed by NASA’s satellite on Wednesday, Keating told The Washington Post.
“We’re talking about a few hundred degrees, so it’s not like some ski resort,” Keating said. “But because they’re so dark and because we’re looking at it in ultraviolet radiation, which the naked eye can’t see, the [NASA satellite] sees them as dark holes.”