Washington: A Japanese spacecraft has spotted two huge holes in the sun`s magnetic field – which are blasting solar material into space.
The images, taken by Japan`s sun-watching satellite Hinode on February 1, clearly show two large dark holes at the top and the bottom of the sun, reports the Discovery News.
Known as ‘coronal holes’, these gaps allow gas to escape into space through the star’s super-hot outer atmosphere where they become the ‘solar wind’.
Solar winds stream from the holes hitting the earth at an average speed of 400 km per second contributing to auroral displays and in more extreme cases creating solar storms.
“The holes are relatively cool in temperature as compared to the active regions nearby. The cooler temperature is one of the reasons for the darker appearance,” NASA officials said in a statement.
The discovery of the holes may now help scientists close in on the mystery of why the sun’s atmosphere, or ‘corona’, is millions of degrees hotter than its surface.
Although usually invisible to the naked eye you can see the corona as a white halo of super hot gas around the sun during a solar eclipse.
Experts, however, said the holes don`t pose a threat to the Earth.
Associate Professor Mike Wheatland from the University of Sydney said effects we see back on Earth are caused more by other solar activity.
"While these are quite beautiful pictures we are unlikely to see any effects from the holes back on Earth. That sort of thing is caused more by solar flares,” he said.
Hinode solar observatory has been studying the sun since the spacecraft was launched in 2006.
It is designed to study the sun to help ‘improve our understanding of the mechanisms that power the solar atmosphere and drive solar eruptions’ and has been instrumental in several key discoveries including identifying the origin of the white light emission in solar flares last year.
The mission is a collaborative mission between NASA and the space agencies of Japan, the UK, Norway and Europe and Japan`s National Astronomical Observatory.