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Man on moon? How about Santa on sun?

By Richard Stenger
CNN

Season's greetings, compliments of the sun, and Solar and Heliospheric Observatory scientists.
Season's greetings, compliments of the sun, and Solar and Heliospheric Observatory scientists.

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(CNN) -- A random arrangement of sunspots make the sun seem like a human visage, which solar scientists could not resist transforming into the most famous red face.

The image, taken this month by a satellite that monitors solar activity, maps magnetically active regions on the sun, or sunspots, which are cooler and appear darker than the remainder of the surface.

"Without any manipulation or changes whatsoever, just about all of the sunspots on the sun seemed to arrange themselves into a somewhat puzzled-looking face," Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) project scientists said in a statement.

"So, we decided to take this opportunity to make the most of it and wish everyone a happy holiday season."

Besides its entertainment value, the sunspot map is of scientific value, as well. Sunspots offer clues about underlying circulation patterns within the sun, which can boil to the surface and erupt into solar storms.

Such sun tempests hurl enormous streams of charged particles, which if directed toward Earth can damage satellites and spark aurora displays.

In fact, the sun is sending a cloud of ionized particles our way right now. On the night of December 27 or 28, sky watchers could see the northern or southern lights when the solar storms strike Earth's magnetic field.



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