Invisible ‘space hurricane’ detected over North Pole for first time

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A 1,000 km. plasma “space hurricane” that raged over the North Pole was confirmed and described by scientists for the first time, the University of Reading announced in a press release Thursday.

Despite the name, the space hurricane has nothing to do with terrestrial stormy weather. Unlike the latter, which take place in Earth’s lower atmosphere, space hurricanes take place in the upper atmosphere. The “storm” here is made of a combination of solar winds (high-speed plasma released by the Sun) and magnetic field lines. Eventually, the winds move fast and due to the magnetic field lines, form a shape similar to a terrestrial hurricane. And just as a regular hurricane pours rain down, the space hurricane pours out electrons.

But while scientists have had theoretical knowledge about the phenomenon, it was unclear if they actually even existed. The fact that such storms wouldn’t be visible to the naked eye only makes it even less likely for one to have been discovered.

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But one such storm was in fact discovered, with four weather satellites having detected it over the magnetic North Pole as it raged for around eight hours on August 20, 2014.

The magnetic field lines at the North Pole had caused the storm of plasma and charged particles to form a spinning funnel shape, with a quiet “eye” at the center, similar to the eye of a storm.

This discovery, which was published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Nature Communications, is significant as it is the first recorded evidence of the phenomenon even being possible.

But the scientists are sure that not only was this not a one-time occurrence, but space hurricanes should be common on other planets possessing a magnetic shield and have plasma in its 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,” explained study co-author Mike Lockwood, space scientist at the University of Reading.

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Despite the intimidating name, space hurricanes aren’t inherently dangerous, as upper-atmospheric phenomena pose little if any threat to the rest of the planet.

However, they could have impacts on GPS, radio signals and even satellite drag. In a statement, lead author Prof. Qing-He Zhang of Shadong University in China warned that the phenomenon could result in “increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation and communication systems.”


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