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Huge tornadoes discovered on the sun

The solar atmosphere can generate solar tornadoes that are several times as wide as the Earth. Here’s the first movie of one.

The sun’s atmosphere can generate huge tornadoes that are several times as wide as the Earth.

Credit: Xing Li, Huw Morgan, Drew Leonard - Solar Dynamic Observatory

Here is the first ever movie of one such solar tornado, observed on 25 September 2011, using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) telescope on board the Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) satellite. The movie was presented at the National Astronomy Meeting 2012 in Manchester on March 29, 2012.

The AIA telescope saw superheated gases as hot as 50,000 to 2,000,000 Kelvin – that’s roughly 90,000 to 35,000,000 Fahrenheit – sucked up and spiraled into the high atmosphere.

Gas speeds of tornadoes here on Earth can reach 150 km per hour. But the hot gases in the solar tornadoes have speeds as high as 300,000 km per hour.

The tornadoes often occur at the root of huge coronal mass ejections, the researchers say. When heading toward the Earth, these coronal mass ejections can cause significant damage to the Earth’s space environment, satellites, even knock out the electricity grid.

Credit: Xing Li, Huw Morgan, Drew Leonard – Solar Dynamic Observatory

The solar tornadoes drag winding magnetic field and electric currents into the high atmosphere. It is possible that the magnetic field and currents play a key role in driving the coronal mass ejections.

Dr. Huw Morgan, co-discover of the solar tornado, said:

This unique and spectacular tornado must play a role in triggering global solar storms.

Bottom line: The first-ever movie of a huge solar tornado was presented at the National Astronomy Meeting 2012 on March 29, 2012. The tornado was observed on 25 September 2011, using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) telescope on board the Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) satellite.

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