NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory captured a dark, planet-sized Death Star-like object flying close to the sun on Monday.
The black Jupiter-sized orb is briefly engulfed in light from the sun, then flies off into space.
A video edited from the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s photos inspired a wave of speculation on YouTube.
The imagery was captured by NASA’s space telescope and edited together by a YouTube user, Sunsflare, who challenged experts to explain the strange “visitor”.
Naturally, the space agency has a rather more ordinary explanation for the strange, black orb.
It’s not a visitor from another solar system – or a planet being born out of the surface of the sun, as others had speculated.
Instead, it’s a solar “prominence” or “filament” – a feature extending out from the sun which forms over the course of a day, and can extend hundreds of thousands of miles into space.
Scientists are still puzzled as to why these features form. The “dark” parts are material cooler than the surrounding solar matter.
C. Alex Young, a solar astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre said, in a reply to Sunsflare’s video: “Filaments appear to be dark because they’re coolerin relation to what’s in the background. When you look at it from the edge of the sun, what you see is this spherical object and you’re actually looking down the tunnel.”
NASA says: “A solar prominence (also known as a filament when viewed against the solar disc) is a large, bright feature extending outward from the Sun’s surface.
“Prominences are anchored to the Sun’s surface and extend outwards into the Sun’s hot outer atmosphere, called the corona.
“Scientists are still researching how and why prominences are formed.
“An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.”
NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory frequently captures the phenomenon – although often as violent eruptions, rather than the eerie sphere of this week’s activity.
“It is not uncommon for prominence material to drain back to the surface as well as escape during an eruption,” says Holly Gilbert a Goddard solar physicist.
“Prominences are large structures, so once the magnetic fields supporting the mass are stretched out so that they are more vertical, it allows an easy path for some of the mass to drain back down.”