NASA explains why the Sun “smiles” at us

NASA explains why the Sun “smiles” at us

An image of the Sun making a big “smile” was widely relayed on social networks after its publication by NASA.

The “smile” of the Sun, photographed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory ©Twitter screenshot

In the field of astronomy, some news is less encouraging, such as this new near-Earth cruiser”potentially dangerous“just discovered, and others are rather funny. Evidenced by this image of the Sun made public by NASA last Thursday. We see our star there… with a big “smile”. No, this is not a Halloween joke but a true photo taken by the Observatory of Solar Dynamics, a program specializing in the study of this star. Explanation of this phenomenon, to say the least unusual.

Coronal holes and pareidolia

In its publication, Nasa gives more details about what is behind this image: “Observed under ultraviolet light, these dark spots on the Sun are known as coronal holes and are regions where solar material is thrown into space.“. In concrete terms, these dark zones are the starting point for the solar winds which, when crossing our planet, cause the auroras and even magnetic disturbances. Since these coronal holes have lost material, they are temporarily less hot and dense, d ‘where the difference compared to the rest of the surface of the Sun.

That is for the purely physical explanation. But obviously, it is we who “invent” this smile of our star. This effect is well known in psychology and even has a name: pareidolia. It is the latter that makes us see familiar shapes in clouds, or in everyday objects. We can also cite the case of several religious relics (with the face of Jesus or the Virgin Mary for example).

A 2014 study investigated pareidolia by exposing people to letters following each other at very high speeds (about 40 and 70 milliseconds of exposure each). It turned out that certain successions were perceived as forming words, with a particularly high frequency when the latter had a moral meaning (such as “sin”, “virtue”, etc.), the other possibilities being less easily identified (example : “virtual”, “useful”). This phenomenon, known as the “moral pop-out effect” or “moral spring”, tends to show “that a message with a moral meaning facilitates visual awareness of an element despite the ambiguity of the context“, specifies the ULB which relays the study. “It seems that morality does indeed shape our vision by facilitating perceptual awareness of certain stimuli despite their ambiguity. This phenomenon responds to a need that would be linked to our desire for a fairer world but also brings a certain form of hope in times of doubt and suffering.“.