Huge tornadoes discovered on the Sun

Mar 29, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Solar tornadoes several times as wide as the Earth can be generated in the solar atmosphere, say researchers in the UK. A solar tornado was discovered using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly telescope on board the Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) satellite. A movie of the tornado will be presented at the National Astronomy Meeting 2012 in Manchester on Thursday 29th March.

"This is perhaps the first time that such a huge solar tornado is filmed by an imager. Previously much smaller solar were found my SOHO satellite. But they were not filmed," says Dr. Xing Li, of Aberystwyth University.

Dr. Huw Morgan, co-discover of the solar tornado, adds, "This unique and spectacular tornado must play a role in triggering global ."

Huge tornadoes discovered on the Sun

The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly saw superheated gases as hot as 50 000 – 2 000 000 Kelvin sucked from the root of a dense structure called prominence, and spiral up into the high atmosphere and travel about 200 000 kilometres along helical paths for a period of at least three hours. The tornadoes were observed on 25 September 2011.

The hot gases in the tornadoes have speeds as high as 300,000 km per hour. Gas speeds of terrestrial tornadoes can reach 150km per hour.

The tornadoes often occur at the root of huge coronal mass ejections. When heading toward the Earth, these coronal mass ejections can cause significant damage to the earth’s space environment, satellites, even knock out the electricity grid.

The solar tornadoes drag winding magnetic field and electric currents into the high atmosphere. It is possible that the magnetic field and currents play a key role in driving the coronal mass ejections.

was launched in February 2010. The satellite is orbiting the Earth in a circular, geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometres. It monitors constantly solar variations so scientists can understand the cause of the change and eventuallyhave a capability to predict the space weather.

Explore further: Radiation monitors tested on space station to fly on Orion

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User comments : 14

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gwrede
5 / 5 (7) Mar 29, 2012
If you imagine the earth in the same picture (it would be about size 10 on the bottom scale), you can get an idea of how absolutely furious the thing is.
Callippo
5 / 5 (4) Mar 29, 2012
It's very sparse effect too. The density of surface of Sun is 40.000x lower, than the density of Earth atmosphere - it's actually a deep vacuum.
Glyndwr
5 / 5 (2) Mar 29, 2012
good to discoveries made in Wales/ Cymru at my old university :)
ExRayz
3.2 / 5 (5) Mar 29, 2012
This is the one thing that really aggravates me about space reporting that makes absolutely no sense. Any picture (I mean ANY) should always have some reference of scale! You look at this picture and immediately think about tornadoes as they appear on earth. No way could the average person know that about three earths could fit inside that tornado! I see the same thing when they picture nebulae. You see what look like a cloud and you think clouds like in our skies but that cloud is 10,000 light years long - so what is a good point of reference for the average person to appreciate how long it would take one traveling at the speed of light to go from one end of the nebula to the other? Well how do you relate traveling at 65 miles per hour to the speed of light? There has got to be more emphasis on scale so the average person can really appreciate the scale of the universe. A good start would be to always show a picture of the earth with any picture of our sun!
yyz
4.6 / 5 (5) Mar 29, 2012
"Any picture (I mean ANY) should always have some reference of scale!"

I take it you missed the horizontal and vertical scales on *both* pictures then?

As far a relating their size to the Earth, the study authors note that solar tornadoes can be "as wide as five earths": http://users.aber...nado.htm
gmurphy
5 / 5 (3) Mar 29, 2012
@yyz, I think ExRayz meant a scale more tractable to humans, not sure what that would be though :), gwrede puts it quite well.
roboferret
not rated yet Mar 29, 2012
good to discoveries made in Wales/ Cymru at my old university :)

I'm an Aber graduate too! They showed us the sun in full 3D, I believe it was the first place to do that.
scidog
5 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2012
i have asked on this site in the past that a common Earth object be superimposed on photos of the surface of Mars,Mercury,the Moon and the new shots we have of asteroids.Sky and Telescope magazine ran some very impressive photos of Mars awhile back but there was no way of knowing if the cliffs in the shots were 100 or 1000 feet high.
i know thats "pop science" and not "real science" but it would be helpful.
hagger
1 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2012
a visual point of reference would be helpful in any report to do with the solar system and beyond, an example would be like the moon rising low in the sky seems larger when we have buildings as a reference point, when it's high it looks small, we have a tiny point of view, mental as well as visible in some cases.
Pyle
not rated yet Apr 02, 2012
the moon rising low in the sky seems larger when we have buildings as a reference point

Actually that has more to do with the earth's atmosphere acting as a lens than with buildings. But we digress...

The scale on the photos should be enough. For shock and awe on the cover of Discover they'll throw a little Earth into the picture, but for consideration by the scientific community I'd think the given scale is appropriate.
Deathclock
1 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2012
the moon rising low in the sky seems larger when we have buildings as a reference point

Actually that has more to do with the earth's atmosphere acting as a lens than with buildings. But we digress...

The scale on the photos should be enough. For shock and awe on the cover of Discover they'll throw a little Earth into the picture, but for consideration by the scientific community I'd think the given scale is appropriate.


Agreed on both counts.
Vendicar_Decarian
5 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2012
Huge tomatoes discovered on the sun?

Bullshit!
yyz
5 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2012
"...the moon rising low in the sky seems larger when we have buildings as a reference point

Actually that has more to do with the earth's atmosphere acting as a lens than with buildings."

While the belief that the atmosphere magnifies the image of the moon near the horizon dates to ancient times, it is now widely recognized that atmospheric optics does not account for the effect known as the "moon illusion": http://science.na...llusion/

Simple photography of a moonrise sequence also reveals that the size of the lunar disk does not noticeably change as it rises above the horizon: http://apod.nasa....130.html

While several explanations for the "moon illusion" have been proposed (and may work together, see first link), the effect is purely psychological in nature.
Pyle
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
@yyz,
No way!!!

There are plenty of days I walk out and look at the rising moon and think, ..., well, nothing of it. The moon "seems" a little larger, but given its position in the sky, yeah, that is probably because it is right near something to reference it against.

However, there are nights when, OMG!!!, that thing is HUGE! I mean I remember a recent night when the thing took up like a third of the horizon. I swear I saw the footprint where W&G landed on their grand day out. That flattened sky model makes much more sense than the Ponzo illusion. I don't think I get the oculomotor micropsia thing at all.

Anyway, next time I see a giant moon I am going to do a series of photographs and convince myself we're all nuts.

Sorry hagger, once again thinking I knew more than I did.

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