Scientists have recently confirmed the first observations of a space hurricane in the earth’s upper atmosphere. The observations were made by satellites in August 2014 but were only recently discovered by a team of scientists from the University of reading and Shandong University in China. The observations confirm the existence of space hurricanes and shine a light on the relationship between planets and space.
The data taken by the satellites allowed scientists to create a 3D image of the 1000 kilometer-wide swirling mass of plasma that extended 700 kilometers above the North Pole. The space hurricane rained atoms instead of water, and researchers say in many ways it was very similar to hurricanes that happen in the lower atmosphere of the Earth. The researchers think space hurricanes are created by unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles into the planet’s upper atmosphere.
While this is the first observed space hurricane, since plasma and magnetic fields in the atmosphere of planets exist throughout the universe, space hurricanes are likely a widespread phenomenon. Interestingly, hurricanes have been observed in the lower atmosphere of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. A space hurricane in the upper atmosphere of other planets has not been detected before.
The space hurricane observed in Earth’s atmosphere was rotating in an anticlockwise direction and had spiral arms. It lasted nearly 8 hours before breaking down. The scientific analysis used data from satellites, radars, and other sources for consistency and to build a picture of what happened to understand better the mechanisms involved in its development.
The space hurricane did occur during a period of low geomagnetic activity, suggesting they could be relatively common within the solar system and the universe in general. The discovery highlights how important learning and monitoring space weather is since the storms could disrupt GPS satellites in orbit.