Scientists spotted ‘space hurricane’ above magnetic north pole. It rained charged solar particles
Scientists confirmed in a new study that they spotted the first-ever space hurricane in August 2014.
The storm swirled 201 kilometres above the magnetic north pole.
Instead of dropping water, the space hurricane rained electrons — which can wreak havoc on satellites.
Typical hurricanes are easy to spot in satellite imagery: Swirling clouds surround a quiet eye. These storms usually form in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, closer to Earth’s surface, and unleash heavy rain and strong winds.
But according to a recent study, space hurricanes are wholly different beasts.
The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, describes the first space hurricane ever spotted. Satellites observed it in August 2014 – a swirling mass with a quiet center more than 125 miles above the North Pole.
Whereas regular hurricanes churn air, this space hurricane was an eddy of plasma, a type of super hot, charged gas found throughout the solar system. And instead of rain, this storm brought showers of electrons.
“Until now, it was uncertain that space plasma hurricanes even existed, so to prove this with such a striking observation is incredible,” Michael Lockwood, a space scientist at the University of Reading and a co-author of the new study, said in a press release.
The space hurricane was more than 998 kilometres wide, and high in the sky – it formed in the ionosphere layer. Lockwood and his coauthors used the satellite data to create a 3D model of the storm.
Space hurricanes could wreak havoc on satellites
The space hurricane lasted eight hours, swirling in a counter-clockwise direction. It had several spiral arms snaking out from its center, according to the researchers, a bit like a spiral galaxy.