The first-ever photograph of the sun was taken in 1845 by Louis Fizeau and Lion Foucault, two French physicists . The photo was black and white and not particularly high quality, but in the image, you can easily make out the sun’s round shape and several dark “sun spots” on its surface.
Since then, humans have enthusiastically studied the sun to better understand the star that we orbit and how it influences life and technology here on Earth. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is a program designed to improve understanding of solar variability and how the sun impacts life on Earth .
The SDO routinely takes snapshots of our nearby star, and just in time for Halloween, NASA shared an incredibly spooky photograph of the sun, posting it to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The photograph was captured on October 8, 2014, and has been circulated throughout the years.
“Even our star celebrates the spooky season,” NASA wrote in their Facebook post. “In 2014, active regions on the Sun created this jack-o’-lantern face, as seen in ultraviolet light by our Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite.”
How was the image captured?
NASA explains that certain parts of the sun will burn more brightly than others at times, creating what we see as a face.
“They are markers of an intense and complex set of magnetic fields hovering in the sun’s atmosphere, the corona,” NASA explains. “This image blends together two sets of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths at 171 and 193 Ångströms, typically colorized in gold and yellow, to create a particularly Halloween-like appearance.”
While it would certainly be spooky if the sun was making a scary face at us for Halloween, the reality is that we see patterns, in this case, a face, in random stimuli due to a psychological phenomenon called Pareidolia. Pareidolia is something that most humans experience and is likely a leftover evolutionary trait.
Astronomer Carl Sagan once theorized that recognizing faces in things made it more likely for babies to survive. He believed that “Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper.”
You can download a high-resolution image of the spooky jack-o’-lantern Sun from NASA’s website.
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