Tags: coronal | hole | sun | observed

Coronal Hole in Sun Over Its North Pole Observed by NASA's SOHO

Tuesday, 30 Jul 2013 07:08 AM

By Michael Mullins

A coronal hole has been spotted on the sun by a NASA space telescope, covering approximately one quarter of the surface of Earth's nearest star.

Between July 13 and July 18, NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft, or SOHO, observed the coronal hole over the sun's north pole spewing out gas and solar material into space, Space.com reported.

In a photo released by NASA, the sun's coronal hole is seen as a large dark region surrounded by swirling solar activity.

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The discovery isn't the first of its kind to be identified on the sun's surface, in fact, coronal holes are "typical features" of the sun's surface, "though they appear at different places and with more frequency at different times of the sun’s activity cycle," according to NASA.

The frequency at which coronal holes appear on the sun depends on the star's solar activity cycle.

As the sun approaches its solar maximum, or 11-year peak in solar activity, we see fewer coronal holes appear over the sun as they gravitate toward the star's poles. In contrast, as the sun cycles back to its solar minimum, the coronal holes will move closer to the equator and increase in both size and number, according to NASA.

Containing little solar material, coronal holes are darker, cooler regions of the sun's atmosphere, where "magnetic field lines whip out into the solar wind rather than looping back to the sun's surface," NASA reports.

"While it’s unclear what causes coronal holes, they correlate to areas on the sun where magnetic fields soar up and away, failing to loop back down to the surface, as they do elsewhere," explained NASA's Karen Fox at the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Space.com reported.

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Launched in December 1995, the SOHO project is a cooperative observatory mission shared between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Built in Europe largely by the French company Mécanique Aviation Traction, the SOHO spacecraft was designed to study the internal structure of the Sun, according to NASA.

Related stories:

Earth: Saturn, Mercury Vantage Points Show Our Planet in NASA Photos

Comet Ison Images Captured by Hubble Give Deep-Space Perspective

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