First space hurricane discovered over the Earth’s polar ionosphere

First space hurricane discovered over the Earth’s polar ionosphere

Scientists have discovered a space hurricane above the North Pole for the first time, which offered an initial glimpse at a phenomenon that could also be taking place on other planets across the universe. The hurricane was raining electrons instead of water, spinning in an anticlockwise direction.

Researchers led by China's Shandong University used satellite data to analyze and identify the space hurricane, discovering that it was not a swirling pattern of air and water, but of plasma-ionized gas. The hurricane lasted about eight hours before dissipating.

"Until now, it was uncertain that space plasma hurricanes even existed, so to prove this with such a striking observation is incredible," said professor Mike Lockwood, a space scientist at the University of Reading.

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Image: Illustration of space hurricane. Credit: Qing-He Zhang/Shandong University

Lockwood noted that the space hurricane could be a universal phenomenon at planets and moons with magnetic fields and plasma.

"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," he continued.

"Plasma and magnetic fields in the atmosphere of planets exist throughout the universe, so the findings suggest space hurricanes should be a widespread phenomenon."

The space hurricane, which happened during a period of low geomagnetic activity, was discovered to share main features with hurricanes in the Earth's lower atmosphere.

The scientists said the process may also be significant for the interaction between interstellar winds and other solar systems throughout the universe.

Reference

"A space hurricane over the Earth’s polar ionosphere" - He Zhang, Q., et al. - Nature Communications - https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-21459-y

Abstract

In Earth’s low atmosphere, hurricanes are destructive due to their great size, strong spiral winds with shears, and intense rain/precipitation. However, disturbances resembling hurricanes have not been detected in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Here, we report a long-lasting space hurricane in the polar ionosphere and magnetosphere during low solar and otherwise low geomagnetic activity. 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. Near the center, precipitating electrons were substantially accelerated to ~10 keV. The hurricane imparted large energy and momentum deposition into the ionosphere despite otherwise extremely quiet conditions. The observations and simulations reveal that the space hurricane is generated by steady high-latitude lobe magnetic reconnection and current continuity during a several hour period of northward interplanetary magnetic field and very low solar wind density and speed.

Featured image credit: Qing-He Zhang/Shandong University

Comments

Oliver Milatovic 1 month ago

The solar “wind” or Birkeland current cannot account for this phenomenon and auroras. It is deflected by the magnetosphere and a fraction that goes through is trapped in the Van Allen’s belt. A tiny fraction can leak and reach upper atmosphere but its energy is too low to excite auroras and cause hurricanes. A study in the European Geosciences Union journal Annales Geophysicae (2013), has found a 'plasmaspheric wind' of ionised particles flowing from INSIDE Earth's atmosphere into the outer magnetosphere. Before, in 1987, Chappell and the RIMS team published a paper describing the polar ion fountain and described the ionosphere as a "fully adequate source of material for the magnetosphere." That means that scientists did not need to look to the solar wind to fill the magnetosphere. Earth, they contended, does a good job of supplying all the materials. In fact, astronomer Edmund Halley, when trying to explain an extraordinary aurora borealis display in 1716; he suggested that it might be due to inherently luminous matter INSIDE the Earth emerging through fissures in the North Pole. In other worlds, Earth is hollow with an inner sun ejecting warmth and plasma trough Earth’s polar openings. https://pwg.gsfc.nasa.gov/istp/news/9812/solar1.html

prioris (@Oliver Milatovic) 1 month ago

it is not clear that the polar ion fountain is the same as the hurricane pattern. the latter may require some other sources.

bonnie merrifield 1 month ago

Hi Eugene...It happens always..it is a connection of our planet to the solar Birkeland current...There are no islands in space. Birkeland currents connect all planets and stars...Because current thinking doesn't allow for the plasma universe in its paradigm we are often in the dark. The hexagon on Saturn's northern pole is its Birkeland current...There are many resources available on the net to learn about this...be careful who you study, as with all things, there are reliable and not so reliable sources

EUGENE S. 1 month ago

Okay well when did this actually happen? I looked at the reference and it's talking about 2014 and 2015 I mean they just released the paper on February 22nd but it's already March 3rd and I mean I'm seeing 2014 and 2015 on the paper even the images say that so did they discover this back then or is this something that happened recently? That's really old news if it happened that long ago but I mean it's cool but you might want to rewrite this article before you scare some people... I kind of got a little nervous myself till I looked for answers I guess that's the point but yeah you might want to put a time frame that this actually occurred in the article people don't get scared thinking this is something that happened recently like today or yesterday... I mean I thought that until I read through the reference paper but not everybody's going to do that... Just saying...

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