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HomeFact CheckDid A Chunk Of The Sun Break Off? Here’s What Really Happened

Did A Chunk Of The Sun Break Off? Here’s What Really Happened

Authors

Kushel HM is a mechanical engineer-turned-journalist, who loves all things football, tennis and films. He was with the news desk at the Hindustan Times, Mumbai, before joining Newschecker.

Several media outlets recently reported that a piece of the Sun broke off, triggering alarmed reactions across social media. According to an NDTV report, a huge part of the Sun broke off of its surface and created a tornado-like swirl around its North Pole. The report stated that the “remarkable phenomenon was caught by NASA’s James Webb telescope and shared on Twitter by Dr Tamitha Skov, a space weather forecaster, last week,” adding that scientists are concerned about the latest development. Similar news reports can be seen here, here, here and here.  

Fact check

Newschecker saw that all the reports stated that the phenomenon was caught by NASA on the James Webb Space Telescope, adding that Dr Tamitha Skov, a space weather forecaster, shared the phenomenon on Twitter.

We looked up the official website of the James Webb Telescope (JWST) and did not find any news report, nor a tweet on a phenomenon related to the Sun published recently, raising our doubts.

No part of the Sun has broken off and the recent phenomenon was of a rare, but periodic solar activity, according to scientists.

We, however, came across a write-up on the telescope’s sunshield, where it stated, “To protect the telescope from external sources of light and heat (like the Sun, Earth, and Moon) as well as from heat emitted by the observatory itself, Webb has a 5-layer, tennis court-sized sunshield that acts like a parasol providing shade,” indicating that it is meant to keep the powerful telescope away from the sun and not to directly image it. This contradicts the claim that the telescope captured the viral phenomenon.

We then looked up Skov’s blog post, dated February 10, 2023, clarifying her discovery as well as calling out media reports for “distorting the facts”.

According to the description of her Youtube video, titled “A Solar Polar Vortex & the X-Factor Returns”, “This week our Sun goes viral with a stunning polar vortex that reveals some of its mysterious dynamics in the one final region still uncharted by solar telescopes (that is until Solar Orbiter begins to climb to higher latitudes later in its mission. This vortex has now been cited in many media outlets as ” a piece of the Sun breaks off” but don’t believe the hype. It is all part of the perfectly normal and stunning solar ballet! …”

A further keyword search led us to this Forbes explainer, dated February 11, 2023, dismissing the reports that chunks of the Sun are breaking off. The report clearly stated, “Thankfully, none of it is true—no part of the Sun has become detached, JWST is never ever pointed at the Sun and, consequently, astronomers are not baffled.”

According to the report, a normal “prominence” — a loop of electrically charged gas called plasma that spouts out of the Sun and is visible to the naked eye during the totality phase of a total solar eclipse — was spotted doing something unusual.

The report stated that “on February 2 a prominence became detached (or “broke away” as Skov unfortunately described it) then whirled around above the Sun’s north pole,” adding that prominences are everyday occurrences, but the fact that the filament then swirled around the polar region of the Sun makes this a rare event.

Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist and deputy director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, reportedly told Space.com that a prominence like this happens at the same 55º latitude every 11 years — the duration of a solar cycle — although researchers aren’t sure what causes it.

Also, the report reiterates that the JWST is permanently pointed away from the Sun. “JWST has an enormous and complex Sun shield to prevent any sunlight from getting near is optics or even slightly heating its optics. If JWST was pointed at the Sun its optics would be completely destroyed,” the report stated, while also clarifying that the event on the Sun’s polar limb was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which has been observing the Sun since 2010.

Conclusion

No part of the Sun has broken off and the recent phenomenon was of a rare, but periodic solar activity, according to scientists.

Result: Missing Context

Sources
Blog post by Tamitha Skov, February 10, 2023
Forbes report, February 11, 2023
Space.com report, February 5, 2023


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Authors

Kushel HM is a mechanical engineer-turned-journalist, who loves all things football, tennis and films. He was with the news desk at the Hindustan Times, Mumbai, before joining Newschecker.

Kushel HM
Kushel HM
Kushel HM is a mechanical engineer-turned-journalist, who loves all things football, tennis and films. He was with the news desk at the Hindustan Times, Mumbai, before joining Newschecker.

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