- Alejandra Martins
- BBC World News
Scientists have never observed a hurricane like this.
Hurricanes occur in the lower layers of the atmosphere, but have not been detected until now in the upper atmosphere.
An international team of scientists led by Professor Qing-He Zhang of Shandong University in China made the first observation of this phenomenon.
“We observed a phenomenon with hurricane characteristics in the upper atmosphere over the magnetic north pole, what we call a space hurricane“Professor Zhang told BBC Mundo.
Although it was theorized about the existence of these hurricanes in the upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, it is the first time that their existence has been confirmed.
The study on the finding was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Electrons instead of water
Scientists described the hurricane as a plasma swirl close up 1.000 kilometers of broad located at an altitude of hundreds of kilometers. The plasma observations were made at about 860 km from the Earth’s surface.
“Until now it was not even certain that plasma hurricanes existedSo to be able to prove that they do exist with this observation is incredible, “said Mike Lockwood, a space scientist at the University of Reading, in England, who was also involved in the study.
Plasma is a gas in which, due to strong collisions at high temperature, the atoms have broken apart, and negative electrons and positive ions move freely.
“The space hurricane is characterized by a spiral structure with multiple arms because precipitates electrons instead of water, a strong plasma circulation with zero horizontal flow in the center (the eye of the hurricane), and a huge and fast flow and deposition of energy towards the polar ionosphere. “
The ionosphere It is a very active part of the atmosphere that overlaps the layers of the atmosphere called the mesosphere, thermosphere, and exosphere.
The ionosphere grows and shrinks depending on the energy it absorbs from the Sun.
Its name is due to the fact that the gases are agitated by solar radiation and form electrically charged ions or atoms.
Parts of the ionosphere overlap with the magnetósfera Earth, which is the area around our planet in which charged particles experience the Earth’s magnetic field.
The space hurricane lasted for about eight hours.
“In this study we present an observation of a space hurricane durable, huge and energetic in the ionosphere over the magnetic North Pole, which deposited energy from the solar wind and the magnetosphere into the ionosphere over a period of several hours, “the study notes.
(The solar wind is the stream of charged particles released from the Sun’s upper atmosphere, called the solar corona.)
“Thousands of images”
The confirmation of the space hurricane was based on satellite observations from 2014.
“My research group at Shandong University focuses primarily on the connection of the ionosphere and the magnetosphere, and its impacts on meteorological and space conditions,” said Professor Zhang.
“My student and I spent about two years studying thousands of images of auroras observed by DMSP satellites in the last 15 years and we found dozens of cases with characteristics of space hurricanes, some not so clear. The case we show in the study is the best. “
The DMSP program or the Defense of Satellites Program for Meteorology (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program) monitors meteorological, oceanographic and solar physical characteristics for the United States Department of Defense.
“They could be a common phenomenon”
“The presence of plasma and magnetic fields can be seen in the atmosphere of other planets in the universe, so space hurricanes could be a common phenomenon,” Lockwood noted.
In space, astronomers have detected hurricanes on Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, which are similar to hurricanes in the Earth’s lower atmosphere. There are also gases that spin in gigantic spiral formations in the solar atmosphere, and they are known as solar tornadoes.
However, no hurricanes had been detected in the upper atmosphere on any of the planets in our heliosphere.
Impact on communications
The study of the space hurricane will help to better understand the interactions between the solar wind, the magnetosphere and the ionosphere under conditions of low geomagnetic activity, explained Professor Zhang.
“It is generally believed that the transfer of energy from the solar wind and plasma to the ionosphere is very weak when geomagnetic activity is low. This study indicates that even in extremely calm geomagnetic conditions there are energy deposition comparable to those that occur in super storms. “.
“This suggests that the geomagnetic activity indicators do not appropriately represent the dramatic activity within space hurricanes, which are further north than the geomagnetic index observatories.”
A better understanding of hurricanes like the one observed is also key for other reasons.
The space hurricane causes effects such as disturbances in high-frequency radio communications and errors in satellite navigation and communication systems, said Professor Zhang.
For the Shandong University expert, the first observation of a space hurricane raises many questions.
“This study is just the beginning,” he said.
“There are many open questions such as: what controls the rotation of space hurricanes? Are these space storms seasonal like their tropical counterparts? Can space hurricanes be predicted as Earth’s weather events?
“We hope to continue our investigations to answer some of those questions and continue to learn from the answers.”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.