Scientists at the University of Reading have confirmed the first observations of a space hurricane in Earth’s upper atmosphere. They used the data collected by satellites to construct a 3D image of the 1,000km-wide swirling mass of plasma several hundred kilometers above the North Pole. Unlike a tropical cyclone, this one rains electrons instead of water, and in many ways is similar to the hurricanes that occur in the Earth’s lower atmosphere. Read more for a video and additional information.
This space hurricane was analyzed by the team in Earth’s ionosphere spinning in an anticlockwise direction, complete with multiple spiral arms, and lasted nearly eight hours before gradually breaking down. What caused this extremely rare phenomenon? The team suspects that it was the interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and parts of the sun’s magnetic field, which was transported on the solar wind, that contributed to the formation of the storm.
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Until now, it was uncertain that space plasma hurricanes even existed, so to prove this with such a striking observation is incredible. Tropical storms are associated with huge amounts of energy, and these space hurricanes must be created by unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles into the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Plasma and magnetic fields in the atmosphere of planets exist throughout the universe, so the findings suggest space hurricanes should be a widespread phenomena,” said Professor Mike Lockwood, space scientist at the University of Reading.