Hurricanes are well known to the people of Earth, especially those in areas prone to storms. But these land storms aren’t the only form hurricanes can take.
Now, new observations show a space hurricane for the first time in the ionosphere, sitting in the upper regions of Earth’s atmosphere where gases are ionized by radiation from the Sun.
Satellite observations taken by four satellites in August 2014 show a durable space hurricane over the north pole of Earth. This storm formed at a time when our planet’s magnetic field was relatively calm.
A 3D map of the space hurricane, 1000 kilometers (625 miles) in diameter, showed the storm spilling large amounts of electrons towards the Earth. The storm, which rotated counterclockwise and had several arms spiraling, lasted about eight hours before dissipating.
“Until now, it was uncertain whether space plasma hurricanes even existed, so to prove it with such a vivid observation is incredible … Tropical storms are associated with enormous amounts of energy, and these space hurricanes must be created by an unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, ”explains Mike Lockwood, space scientist at the University of Reading.
You are… like a space hurricane…
“A drop in the ocean is not afraid of a hurricane” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Hurricanes form when warm, humid air over oceans rises, creating a system of low pressure over the the water. Air rushes to fill the region with low pressure, resulting in high winds and clouds, which often result in heavy rain.
“A hurricane is clearly associated with strong energy and mass transport, so a hurricane in the Earth’s upper atmosphere must be violent and efficiently transfer the energy and momentum of the solar / magnetosphere wind into the ionosphere of the Earth. Earth ”, describe the researchers in an article published in Nature communications.
Along with their familiar cousins here at home, hurricanes have been seen on bodies in our own solar system.
“[A]stronomes have spotted hurricanes on Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, which are similar to terrestrial hurricanes in the lower atmosphere. There are also solar gases that swirl in monstrous formations deep in the atmosphere of the sun, called solar tornadoes with widths of several Earth rays ”. Shandong University reports.
Astronomers know more than 4,400 exoplanets orbiting stars other than the Sun. Many of them, like the planets in our own solar system, are expected to have magnetic fields and plasma in their atmospheres, suggesting that space hurricanes could be common around the Cosmos. The fact that this high altitude storm formed when geomagnetic activity was low increases the chances of this phenomenon forming on other exoplanets.
We are now on the verge of being able to explore the atmospheres of other worlds. This space hurricane here on Earth could give us a glimpse of what life is like on Earth distant planets.