After the European space agency (ESA) released what turns out to be the most detailed image of the Sun, courtesy of a mosaic of 25 photos taken by Solar Orbiter, many people on social media joked that it was possible to see a human figure on the surface of the star. But after all, is there a man in the sun?
Obviously not: what we saw as a humanoid figure is nothing more than the plasma movements taking place in the solar corona – the “surface” of our star. But you cannot deny that the similarities are quite evident:
The name of this effect is “pareidolia”, which the Brazilian Society of Psychology (SBP) defines as a neuropsychological phenomenon that makes you recognize familiar shapes and objects in random situations. In short, remember the many cases of people seeing the image of Jesus Christ in a slice of bread and similar situations? Well, it’s pareidolia happening. The “man in the Sun” is that same psychological reflex, only taken to space.
“This tendency to find meaningful patterns in random images or sounds is related to our brain’s ability to transform our perceptions into something familiar, that is, it relates to the way we construct the world around us,” said the researcher. specialist in neuropsychology Fabrício Veloso, linked to the SBP.
In the case of the recently released image of the Sun, it is these movements that create the illusion of form and action (like the “man in the Sun” looking to the left), causing some areas to light up more than others due to high activity – such areas are called “sunspots” and they should appear in greater quantity and frequency in the coming years, as the Sun is “waking up” from a period of low solar activity.
Understanding these phenomena is precisely one of the primary missions of the Solar Orbiter, a kind of probe operated jointly by ESA and NASA, the American space agency. The idea is to closely observe all the activities of the Sun, using a series of optical, infrared and ultraviolet viewing instruments, in order to understand what makes our star work this way.
For example, thanks to the Solar Orbiter, we should gain more in-depth knowledge about coronal mass ejections and geomagnetic storms – two phenomena that can have immense impact on Earth.
Solar Orbiter was launched in February 2020, and the mission is expected to last about seven years.
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