SCIENCE
06/06/2013 08:54 am ET

Coronal Hole In Sun May Cause Solar Winds & Auroras, NASA Says (VIDEO)

We're not sure whether to be amazed or alarmed.

A "massive" coronal hole that rotated toward Earth from May 28-31 was one of the largest such holes NASA says it has observed all year.

The amazing part is that NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory was able to capture some spectacular ultraviolet footage of the hole in the sun's corona. (Watch in the video above.)

The potentially alarming part?

Coronal holes (dark, cold areas in the sun's outermost atmospheric layer) are the sources of solar winds -- streams of charged particles that travel at more than 1 million mph and can cause auroras and geomagnetic storms (worldwide disturbances of the Earth's magnetic field) when they reach our planet.

A powerful geomagnetic storm in 1989 caused intense auroras borealis and major disruptions of power grids in Quebec, according to NASA. Subsequent smaller events have disrupted communication and navigation satellites, the agency says.

Will this coronal hole affect us here on Earth the way a powerful solar flare recently caused a temporary radio communications blackout? It just might.

NASA says that solar winds are most likely to affect Earth after a coronal hole has rotated more than halfway around the visible hemisphere of the sun -- just as this one has.

But don't get too worried: NASA says simply that the solar winds could "cause some aurora here on Earth."

We can live with that.

(h/t The Atlantic)

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