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What the Heck Is This?

Beautiful, isn't it? But can you guess what it is?

Big hint: Tomorrow (Tuesday, June 14), NASA will announce a major finding having to do with this thing.

Full disclosure: Normally the images in What the Heck are not toyed with. But this one has been colorized (by researchers, not me) to highlight the structures of this … sunspot. The picture was taken in May 2010. See the whole thing below, with Earth shown to scale …

NASA won't say what they're going to say tomorrow. So I'll just ramble on a bit about sunspots:

Sunspots are like caps on a Champagne bottle. When one pops, the whole shebang can come flying out. More scientifically speaking, sunspots are cool, darker areas at the surface of the sun capping regions of intense magnetic activity. They're often the sites of energetic eruptions — flares of light and ejections of charged particles that create space storms that can knock out satellites and even disrupt power grids on Earth.

Check out the image and description of the massive solar storm kicked up June 7.

These energetic eruptions are one reason NASA studies sunspots. Tomorrow afternoon, our sister site will tell you all about the announcement.

Got a strange or interesting photo related to science, nature or technology? What the Heck, send it to me, and maybe I'll use it. Or follow me on Twitter, or Facebook.

A photo of a sunspot taken in May 2010, with Earth shown to scale. The image has been colorized for aesthetic reasons. This image with 0.1 arcsecond resolution from the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope represents the limit of what is currently possible in terms of spatial resolution. (Image credit: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, V.M.J. Henriques (sunspot), NASA Apollo 17 (Earth))