Scientists first observe wild space hurricane over Earth

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This illustration visualizes the shape of the space hurricane observed in satellite data from 2014.

Qing-He Zhang / Shandong University

Someone is calling the SyFy channel. We’re going to need a whole series of Spacenado films. This week, a team of researchers unveiled the results of a study that sheds light on the very first sighting of a space hurricane in our planet’s upper atmosphere. Unlike the infamous cyclones that wreak havoc closer to the Earth’s surface, the space hurricane was made up of swirling plasma and “plucked” electrons.

“Until now, it wasn’t even certain that space plasma hurricanes existed, so proving it with such a vivid sighting is incredible,” University of Reading space scientist Mike Lockwood said in a statement. press release Monday. Lockwood is the co-author of an article on the phenomenon published in the journal Nature Communications in late February.

Scientists discovered the event after reanalyzing data collected by satellites in August 2014. Researchers from Shandong University in China led the team that made the discovery. The data showed a mass of plasma 620 miles wide (1,000 kilometers) swirling over the North Pole. He had spiral arms and lasted almost eight hours.

Plasma is a hot field of study. NASA, which has investigated space plasma tornadoes, describes space plasma as “charged particles, like electrons and ions.” These particles travel through space and can cause problems for satellites and astronauts. The space agency was also behind a 2019 paper on “plasma tsunamis” on the sun.

Lockwood pointed out that an “unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles into the Earth’s upper atmosphere” was the cause of the space hurricane. The existence of at least one known space hurricane under these circumstances suggests that they could be common in the atmospheres of other planets.

Understanding Earth’s space hurricane could help scientists better understand space weather and its impact on systems we rely on, like GPS. As a bonus, it sounds cool to say “space hurricane”.

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