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​Scientists Discover First Space Hurricane Over North Pole

Jess Hardiman

| Last updated 

​Scientists Discover First Space Hurricane Over North Pole

Scientists have discovered the first ever space hurricane over the North Pole, referring to the find as 'incredible'.

The hurricane was spotted by a team of researchers led by China's Shandong University, who published their findings recently in the journal Nature.

Identifying the hurricane using satellite data, the team found an unusual swirling mass of plasma in the Earth's ionosphere, which is the area where Earth's atmosphere meets outer space.

They noticed that the phenomenon behaved similarly so the wind-based hurricanes we find on Earth, but this space version rained electrons instead of water.

"In space, astronomers have spotted hurricanes on Mars, and Saturn, and Jupiter, which are similar to terrestrial hurricanes in the low atmosphere," the team explain in their paper.

Credit: Shandong University/Nature
Credit: Shandong University/Nature

"There are also solar gases swirling in monstrous formations deep within the sun's atmosphere, called solar tornadoes with widths of several Earth radii (RE).

"However, hurricanes have not been reported in the upper atmosphere of the planets in our heliosphere."

The team analysed satellite observations from August 2014 to construct a 3D image of the phenomenon.

They said the huge space hurricane was spread out across a 1,000km area above the North Pole, and lasted for nearly eight hours before it broke down.

It also turned anticlockwise - much like hurricanes on earth in the northern hemisphere - and had a quiet centre, along with multiple spiral arms.

"The observations and simulations reveal that the space hurricane is generated by steady high-latitude lobe magnetic reconnection and current continuity during a several hour period of northward interplanetary magnetic field and very low solar wind density and speed," the team explained.

In the study, the team said the process could be important for the interaction between interstellar winds and other solar systems in the universe.

Credit: Shandong University/Nature
Credit: Shandong University/Nature

Professor Mike Lockwood, space scientist at the University of Reading who also worked on the analysis, said the hurricanes could be a universal phenomenon on planets with magnetic fields and plasma.

He said: "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."

Featured Image Credit: University of Reading

Topics: World News, News, space

Jess Hardiman
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