On January 21 at 7:00 AM GMT, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) recorded an unusual object in a routine image of the solar disk. An analysis of the .GIF image obtained from the SOHO website on 01/22/04 does not reveal any sign that the object has been digitally added to the image, or that the image has been altered in any way. However, a copy of the .GIF obtained at a different resolution on 01/27/04 shows an innocuous spot of light similar to a star where they object was in the original image, with none of the detail present earlier. It turns out that both images are authentic.
Although both have identical designations, they are from slightly different frames of the same video sequence, and neither shows any sign of digital alteration. The difference between the two is evidence that the object was changing appearance very quickly. It was not in motion because it is in the same place in both frames. This means that the frame showing it as barely visible has recorded it as it was either appearing or disappearing.
This behavior, as recorded, rules this out as a passing meteor or a star. SOHO imagery records these all the time, and they can sometimes take on very deceiving appearances in individual frames. But they do not appear and disappear in the same spot. Different frames of the same sequence show them in different positions if they are meteors, or with an unchanged appearance if they are stars.
In the frame where the object is fully visible, it is disk shaped and domed, and there are two faint balls of what appear to be plasma just below it. There is no way to tell if they are emanating from the object, rising toward it, or stationary, or even whether or not they are in the same plane as the object. Nor is it possible from the image alone to determine the actual location of the object in relation to the sun. If the object was in the same plane as the sun, it would be immense. If closer to the imaging system, far smaller.
At this time, it is obviously impossible to say what this object is. However, it is not a digital prank. The original .GIFs are both undisturbed at this time. (01/29/04 12:45PM Central.)
The .GIF with the object visible in it can be viewed on the SOHO website by clicking here. When expanded, the white dot above the sun becomes the detailed object seen illustrating this story.
The .GIF with the object in a faded condition can be viewed here. Expanding the dot on this image reveals a small spot of light.
Dr. Paul La Violette has written a brilliant book about the sun. It explains why we had a cataclysm 15,000 years ago, and what could trigger another one.
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