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All about the Space Hurricane spotted over North Pole

Tulika Tandon

Space Hurricane: Why in News?

Scientists recently observed an unknown phenomenon, something that was totally new to them in the North Pole of the Earth. It was a 620-mile-wide swirling mass of plasma rolling for almost 8 hours in the Earth's upper atmosphere. The  strange part was that it was raining electrons instead of water.

Details:

The hurricane was spotted by a team of researchers led by China's Shandong University. The team noticed an unusual swirling mass of plasma in the Earth's upper atmosphere, precisely the ionosphere. The phenomenon was similar to the hurricanes on earth, but it rained electrons. The Hurricane spread across a 1000 kilometre area over the north pole and lasted for 8 long hours before it broke and spread. 

The scientists found the phenomenon by piecing together the data obtained in 2014 from the satellite. The storm took place in August that year. 

These flows were strongest at the edge and decreased as one moved towards the eye in the center, before picking up again on the other side. It is similar to the flow of air in a regular hurricane.

What is a space hurricane?

Space hurricane is similar to any other space weather event. It is caused by streams of plasma unleashed from the sun through the solar wind. 

As the clouds of charged particles hurl through space, they are capable of fueling magnetic storms and triggering stunning displays of the northern or southern lights.

Michael Lockwood, a professor of space environment physics at the University of Reading in the U.K said, "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."

Similarities to Land Hurricanes:

  1. It had a stable centre point like a hurricane eye
  2. It had strong shears around the edges
  3. All flowing patterns were similar to the lower-atmosphere storms
  4. The storm looks like a cross between a hurricane and the Aurora Borealis, or simply like a gigantic blast of green energy.

Why are Space Hurricanes formed?

Scientists routinely monitor space weather because radiation from particles from the sun can wreak havoc on satellites in orbit and can occasionally disrupt infrastructure on the ground, such as surges in power lines. Since the observed space hurricane occurred over the North Pole, it's not thought that it would pose many dangers to people at lower latitudes, but there are implications for communications and navigation systems.

The energy in the space hurricane is obtained from plasma which means the energy is magnetic energy in the storm. There is a projected reconnection site. 

A rain of charged particles comes into the atmosphere / ionosphere from the solar wind which usually produces glowing green aurorae at higher latitudes. As per the scientists it was surprising to see that the solar conditions were relatively quiet when the space hurricanes happened.

Tropical storms are associated with large energy but the space hurricanes are created by unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and are charged by earth's upper atmospheric surface.

What is magnetic re-connection?

It is a physical process which occurs in highly conducting plasma in which the magnetic topology is rearranged and magnetic energy is converted to kinetic and thermal energy accelerating the particles.

Space hurricanes have also been spotted over Mars, Saturn and Jupiter and these were too similar to terrestrial hurricanes. The phenomenon where the solar gases swirl in monstrous formations deep inside the suns atmosphere is called solar tornadoes. 

Also Read| What is a Sounding Rocket? Know about its history, significance and uses

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