The sun rang in the New Year with a mystery: a huge hole that appeared on the sun's south pole.
Coronal holes are areas of the Earth's sun's surface where the magnetic field reaches into space instead of looping back to the surface, according to the Daily Mail. Instead of trapping particles, the magnetic field releases them creating a dimmer spot on the corona. Sun spots are seen frequently on the sun and occur during various times of the solar cycle.
Coronal holes can last for five years and the shape of the hole could change during that time. Every time a coronal hole rotates by the Earth, scientists measure high-speed streams, another form of space weather. Surface winds on the sun can get as high as 500 miles per second when there is a sunspot, according to Daily Mail.
NASA warned weeks ago that the Earth could be hit with solar flares once Active Region 12192 aligns with Earth, according to Daily Mail. Active Region 12192 is the largest sunspot observed in the last 24 years. It started to align with Earth in October, but so far has not created any coronal mass ejection (CMEs).
CMEs involve plasma a magnetic fields thrown from the sun's corona into space. CMEs are hugely energetic since the magnetic fields hold a lot of energy. When the magnetic fields loop, they can "tangle and snap" causing solar flares, according to Daily Mail.
"This time around, it's more likely to have some coronal mass ejections associated with it, even though the solar flares might be smaller," NASA scientist Holly Gilbert told Space.com during a video interview.
Ashley Dale, a member of Solarmax, an international task force, and aerospace engineering doctoral researcher at Bristol University, warned about the threat of solar storms.
When a CME reaches a high magnitude, it could rip into the Earth's magnetic field, which would result in a solar superstorm. Dale said that the massive electrical surges could cause global power outages ad widespread panic. Dale told Daily Mail that it is just "a matter of time."
In 1859, the Earth experienced the largest solar superstorm ever recorded, called the Carrington Event. The CME released an energy "equivalent to 10 billion Hiroshima bombs exploding at the same time," according to Daily Mail.
At the time, human's electronic usage was low (no televisions, ATMs or gas stations), so the impact was extremely low.
NASA has predicted a Carrington-level event is likely every 150 years, according to Daily Mail, which means we are about five years overdue. Researchers estimate there is a 12 percent chance that a solar superstorm will occur in the next 10 years.