Yet another unusual object has appeared in imagery from NASA’s SOHO system. This is an enormous ‘angel’ that seems to be hanging in space near the sun. However, that isn’t what it is at all. Here is our expert’s opinion:


"Video dropouts" from satellites went out with the analog age, at least 20-30 years ago. All transmissions are now digital, which means any missing data is automatically re-sent before the final picture is reconstructed on the receiving end.  The fact that you never see typographical errors in email (other than what the writer overlooked) is based on the same strategy.

What we’re seeing in these images originated in the imaging sensor. How do we know this?

– First of all, because digital images are formed out of a matrix of pixels (dots) arranged in a grid — like a windowscreen. So anything that aligns itself exactly with that grid is astronomically unlikely to be actually shaped that way.

– Secondly, because SOHO uses the type of sensor in which excessively bright pixels can bleed into adjacent ones, creating a line where there should be only a dot. You used to see this on television a lot, where a news camera was pointed at a streetlight at night and you saw a vertical streak extending above and below the light. (In these SOHO images, the streaking goes left-right.)


My guess is that what created these "angels" are micrometeorites in the earth’s atmosphere, moving roughly from top to bottom in these images. As the objects start to burn at full brightness they saturate and overload the sensor, creating the wider lines we see as "wings." Then as the brightness diminishes, the lines narrow, and finally at the bottom we see the "tails" in something like their actual reddish color.  Another possibility could be cosmic-ray hits on the sensor, but for various reasons I think that’s less likely.

For a very different opinion go to Share Magazine press release (PDF)

Who does your Out There editor believe? I think our expert has nailed it.

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