It is an amazing likeness, the latest image captured by NASA spacecraft. On the roiling surface of the sun, reports Space.com, darker portions outline what appears to be a spot-on depiction of the much beloved Big Bird from the children's show "Sesame Street."
The photo, which was taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on June 1, is actually just another in a long series of photos of the Sun taken since the spacecraft went into operation with its launch in February 2010. However, in the image the darker areas of the corona, or the Sun's outer atmosphere, truly looks like a left-facing (to the viewer) Big Bird.
Even Camilla Corona, the SDO's rubber chicken mascot, took to Twitter, posting, "I can't get over how much this looks like Big Bird - but it is a coronal hole on the Sun."
NASA also posted two photos of the Big Bird image, one with the cartoon of the affable bird next to what looks like his shadow.
Far from being Big Bird far from planet Earth, though, the effect was actualized by the presence of coronal holes. The "holes," which stretch across about half the diameter of the Sun, are associated with magnetic field lines that extend outward from the Sun's surface and are most often found near the sun's poles. These areas, darker because they are also cooler than the surrounding areas, are also where solar winds originate.
Charged particles from those winds should bombard the Earth between June 5 and June 7.
But Big Bird is just the latest familiar image picked up by NASA cameras. Of course, these images are simply natural phenomena. They have simply taken on shapes recognizable to humans, much like the way clouds can resemble animals and objects to even the slightly imaginative. It is a function of the brain called pareidolia.
One of the more recent discoveries fitting a case of pareidolia was the discovery of an elephant's head in a lava flow on Mars.
Back in July 2011, the Dawn spacecraft orbiting the asteroid Vesta sent back photos of the small planetoids rocky surface. Three craters, arranged from smallest to largest, were discovered and immediately dubbed the "Snowman."
The phenomenon is also responsible for the sighting of famed "Face on Mars," which at one time prompted speculation of alien civilizations and was later found to be a geological formation. The surface of Mars has also provided other familiar resemblances, such as the "Happy Face" crater and the "Glass Worm."
Further out into the cosmos, many nebula and galaxies -- or at least the most famous ones -- have the common denominator of taking their names from the familiar, such as the Horsehead Nebula.
But the need to attach the familiar with the unfamiliar, especially with regard to outer space, has been a coping mechanism for humanity for quite some time. It prompted creation of fanciful creatures from stars, the constellations, not to mention giving rise to the belief in canals on Mars. It is why it is easy to discern a face in the reflective surface of the moon.
And it is why it was so easy to spot Big Bird walking on the face of the sun.
(photo credit: NASA/SDO)