Over the past few days, we’ve seen some ridiculous internet headlines about pieces of the Sun breaking off, a terrifying vortex, and “Uh, the Sun kind of broke” — as well as claims that it was all captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. The various stories also claim that astronomers are stunned.
Thanks, none of that is true—no part of the sun fell awayJWST is Never already pointed to the Sun and, consequently, astronomers are no perplexed.
but something really cool he did happen on the Sun.
So why so many misleading headlines?
The initial source of many reports is a tweet by astronomer Dr. Tamitha Skov, a space meteorologist, on Feb. Dr Skov said:
“Talk about the Polar Vortex! Material from a northern bulge has just separated from the main filament and is now swirling in a huge polar vortex around our star’s north pole. The implications for understanding the Sun’s atmospheric dynamics above 55° here cannot be overstated.”
It was accompanied by images of the Sun captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Indicate a lot of misunderstandings, the tweet going viral – and a lot of weird headlines.
Here’s what really happened:
What happened on the Sun?
A normal “prominence” on the Sun was spotted doing something unusual. A solar prominence is a loop of electrically charged gas called plasma that usually gushes out of the Sun. It is possible to see them with the naked eye during the totality phase of a total solar eclipse.
They look like this:
What happened on February 2nd was that a prominence broke off (or “broke” as Skov unfortunately described it) and then rotated about the Sun’s north pole.
No part of the Sun “broke off” – prominences are an everyday occurrence – but the fact that the filament then rotated around the Sun’s polar region makes this a rare event.
Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist and deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told Space.com that a flare like this happens at the same 55° latitude every 11 years.
“This vortex has been referred to in many media outlets as ‘a piece of the Sun breaks off’, but don’t believe the hype,” wrote Dr. Skov on her blog. “It’s all part of the perfectly normal, dazzling solar ballet!”
Solar Orbiter and ‘solar maximum’
Scientists don’t know why the event happened because they don’t have images of the sun’s polar regions, but they may soon get more clues. In February 2025, the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft will begin an inclined orbit of the Sun, starting its “high latitude” mission, during which it will take the first top-down images of the Sun’s polar regions.
The Solar Orbiter will have a ringside seat to observe the Sun’s “solar maximum”, which is predicted to occur in 2025. to the “solar minimum”, which this strange highlight is part of.
Why wasn’t the JWST pointed at the Sun?
JWST is the most ambitious and complex space science telescope ever built, with a huge 6.5-meter primary mirror capable of detecting the faint light of distant stars and galaxies.
Permanently pointed away from the Sun, the JWST has a huge complex sun shield to prevent any sunlight from getting close to your optics or even slightly heating your optics. If the JWST were pointed at the Sun, its optics would be completely destroyed.
The event was observed on the Sun’s polar limb by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which has been observing the Sun since 2010.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes