Mar 9, 2021 - Science

Scientists observe first-ever "space hurricane" above Earth

picture of the surface of earth taken from space

Photo: NASA

For the first time, scientists spotted a "space hurricane" — a mass of plasma hundreds of miles above the North Pole, raining electrons, not water — using satellite data from 2014.

Why it matters: The new finding could help scientists learn more about how the Sun affects Earth's atmosphere, gathering more details on how space weather might harm satellites and other objects in orbit.

  • "Until now, it was uncertain that space plasma hurricanes even existed, so to prove this with such a striking observation is incredible," Mike Lockwood, an author of the study in Nature Communications about the discovery, said in a statement.

What they did: The international team created a 3D model of the space hurricane that looked very much like the more commonly known hurricanes found swirling above oceans around the world.

  • The space hurricane — thought to be a result of the solar wind and Earth's magnetic field interacting — was found spinning counterclockwise, with spiral arms and it lasted for eight hours, according to the study.
  • The researchers think these kinds of storms could also create more drag on satellites and interfere with radio signals and communications, making these events particularly important to understand.
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