Scientists have discovered the first-ever hurricane in space. The historical event happened over the North Pole.
A team of researchers led by China’s Shandong University spotted the hurricane. The team published their findings recently in the journal Nature.
The team used satellite data to identify the hurricane. They also found an unusual swirling mass of plasma in the Earth’s ionosphere, which is the area where Earth’s atmosphere meets outer space.
The space storm was behaving very similarly to the wind-based hurricanes we find on Earth. But instead of raining water, the space hurricane rained elctrons.
“In space, astronomers have spotted hurricanes on Mars, and Saturn, and Jupiter, which are similar to terrestrial hurricanes in the low atmosphere,” the team said in their paper.
“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 paper continued.
The team constructed a 3D image of the storm using satellite observations from August 2014.
The storm lasted for about 8 hours before dissipating.
It also turned anticlockwise – much like hurricanes on earth in the northern hemisphere – and had a quiet eye, 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.
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.
“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,” he said.
“Plasma and magnetic fields in the atmosphere of planets exist throughout the universe, so the findings suggest space hurricanes should be a widespread phenomena.”