Massive ‘space hurricane’ captured spinning over Earth for the first time

Schematic of a space hurricane in the northern polar ionosphere.


By RICHARD TRIBOU | Orlando Sentinel | Published: March 6, 2021

ORLANDO, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — While Florida is no stranger to hurricanes at ground level, the Earth once experienced a 620-mile-wide “space hurricane.”

That’s what researchers were calling a phenomenon that formed over the North Pole in 2014 captured for the first time by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program. Instead of wind and rain, though, the “space hurricane” was whipping around electrons. Made up of plasma, the vortex spun counter-clockwise and lasted about eight hours, according to the research compiled by scientists from the University of Reading and Shandong University in China.

They published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

“Here, we report a long-lasting space hurricane in the polar ionosphere and magnetosphere during low solar and otherwise low geomagnetic activity,” the paper’s abstract reads. “This hurricane shows strong circular horizontal plasma flow with shears, a nearly zero-flow center, and a coincident cyclone-shaped aurora caused by strong electron precipitation associated with intense upward magnetic field-aligned currents.”

The paper said the “space hurricane” fed large amounts of energy and momentum into the  ionosphere. Bursts of solar wind can disrupt the GPS satellite systems that orbit Earth, and this phenomenon is an example of why scientists monitor space weather.

This marks the first time the existence of a “space hurricane” has been found. Researchers suggest that “space hurricanes” could be present on other planets as well across the universe.


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The discovery of a "space hurricane" high above Earth might mean that more such storms whirl away at other planetary bodies.