In a study published in the latest Nature Communications journal, scientists identified a hurricane of plasma in the Earth’s atmosphere that they are labeling a “Space Hurricane”; rather than create destructive winds and heavy rains, the space hurricane rains electrons directly into the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.
An international team of scientists led by Shandong University in China analyzed satellite observations in 2014 to reveal a space hurricane centered near the North Pole. Their analysis showed that the space hurricane spun about for nearly 8 hours on August 20, 2014. The space hurricane was shaped like a traditional meteorological hurricane, with a calm center or “eye” from which spiral bands of plasma spun out. The space hurricane is invisible to the naked eye, but could be observed by Earth observing satellites that scan the atmosphere for more than just clouds and traditional storms.
The space hurricane was about 620 miles across and was located in the ionosphere and magnetosphere. In comparison, regular hurricanes are about 300 miles across, although they can be smaller or larger than the average at times. And unlike a space hurricane, a regular hurricane moves about in the troposphere, the lowest level of the atmosphere above the surface.
Professor Qing-He Zhang, lead author of the research at Shandong University, said, “These features also indicate that the space hurricane leads to large and rapid deposition of energy and flux into the polar ionosphere during an otherwise extremely quiet geomagnetic condition, suggesting that current geomagnetic activity indicators do not properly represent the dramatic activity within space hurricanes, which are located further poleward than geomagnetic index observatories.”
University of Reading’s Professor Mike Lockwood, who participated in the study, said, ” 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. Plasma and magnetic fields in the atmosphere of planets exist throughout the universe, so the findings suggest space hurricanes should be a widespread phenomena.”
The full article can be viewed here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y
Scientists are learning more about space weather and how it impacts life and technology on Earth. The study of space hurricanes is in its infancy, along with a general understanding of the true impacts of space weather on Earth’s weather, climate, and natural processes inside Earth such as seismic activity.