First Space Hurricane Ever Spotted Stunns UCLA Professor

Jano le Roux

Beautiful auroras emerge as the sun sends a burst of electric photons our way: tassels of vibrant lights swirling about in the atmosphere between the north and south magnetic poles. A mysterious blurry patch of auroral lights hovers above the North Pole every now and then. It’s unclear what these lights are or what’s causing them, particularly because they’ve emerged during the sun’s quiet times.

Larry Lyons of UCLA in Los Angeles, one of the study’s co-authors, described to NBC how the data was placed together to shape the models: “We had various instruments measuring various things at different times, so it wasn’t like we took a big picture and could see it. The really fun thing about this type of work is that we had to piece together bits of information and put together the whole picture.”

It seems that a multinational team of scientists has found it out. These dots may be the northern lights spinning in an unusual circular formation like a storm — a phenomenon called a “space hurricane” by scientists.

Researchers uncovered a blast of auroral pollution over the North Pole captured in unparalleled depth when combing through reams of data gathered by a Cold War-era satellite network. An odd aurora that emerged over the North Pole in 2014 had a calm core, or “eye,” with powerful “winds” of plasma — electrically excited gas — zipping around it in a vortex-like fashion, according to a report reported in Nature Communications in February. It was more than 620 miles across and extended from its base 60 miles above sea level to 500 miles high, extending into space, lasting around eight hours.

Prior to 2014, those auroral patches may have been space hurricanes. If that’s the case, the 2014 incident isn’t a brand-new revelation. “This is the first time that we’ve seen that it’s actually a hurricane, in shape, form, and behavior,” says study co-author Oksavik, a space physics researcher at the University of Bergen in Norway.

There are also certain unknowns, such as how common space hurricanes are and how much energy is transferred through the Earth’s atmosphere.

The quest to finding “space hurricanes”

Mr. Zhang, the report’s principal investigator and a professor at Shandong University in China has spent the last few years combing through satellite measurements with his students in pursuit of interesting upper-atmospheric anomalies. The Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, which was developed by the US in the 1960s to monitor the world’s climate and aid the US armed forces in planning combat operations, provided one such repository.

Zhang states that because hurricane-like entities occur in the clouds of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, as well as on Earth — for example, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot — he wondered whether anything analogous might happen in the planets’ upper atmospheres. The Earth, which is covered by satellites, seems like a safe place to launch.

Satellites have historically observed suspicious auroral spots over the north magnetic pole, but their orbits and cameras were never accurate enough to see anything other than a blur. Military satellites from the United States, on the other hand, fly far lower to Earth and hold detectors that can identify auroras. Despite the fact that this setup is ideal for finding a space hurricane, the researchers had a difficult challenge since they had little idea when one would appear or what the main characteristics of a space hurricane would be. Oksavik notes, “You don’t know what you’re looking for.”

On August 20, 2014, certain satellites spotted a cyclone-like auroral spot swirling right atop the north magnetic pole, resembling a hurricane. However, the solar operation at the moment was totally unacceptable. The sun’s expanded magnetic field was not aligned in a way that would allow for a good aurora, and the solar wind — the stream of particles and magnetism shot into space by the sun — moved steadily and missed several active particles.

How do auroras work?

To begin, one must know about auroras.

Electrons expelled from the sun arc crash into neutral particles, creating glows of light in the upper atmosphere. Whites, red, gray, and blue, based on the gases.

They can be seen around the Earth in the aurora, which extends and contracts with the Earth’s gravitational wind and the Sun’s.

As the sun’s magnetic field points south and Earth’s magnetic field moves across the surface, a large oval is created in the region of the aurora. Through a solar storm, electrons and the Earth’s magnetic fields come together like opposite poles of a magnet. This makes a powerful magnetic link between the Earth’s and the Sun, causing electrons and positive ions to flow from the wind at the poles

In order to further understand the unusual “hurricane-like” like auroral vortex that was present in 2014, the team developed a 3D simulation.

At that stage, the sun’s magnetic compass was fully decoupled from the magnetosphere that drew the auroral oval into a small circle atop the magnetic pole

And in the usual solar wind settings, electrons were pouring down into Earth. regular aurorae emit diffuse When they were diving into the oval that day, more gas atoms and molecules reached the particular position than normal, which produced a brighter aurora than anticipated.

It finally produced an eastward aspect as well. This isn’t uncommon, but in this well-defined rectangle, it was pressured to go full circle. Hurray, here it is!

Final Thoughts

More space hurricanes are being pursued. According to Oksavik, now that the researchers know what to check for, algorithms can be written to easily spool through satellite data and recognize other candidates. When they are detected, they will assist researchers in further interpreting their actions and will show whether they exist just above the North Pole or even down south.

Since space hurricanes do not need above-average solar activity to occur, the fact that they occurred during a quiet solar cycle in 2014 indicates that they are normal. Not only on Earth but probably on other planets with magnetic forces as well, such as the gas and ice giants, as well as Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, which is the only moon with its own magnetosphere.

Photo Credits:

Photo 1 by Joel Filipe on Unsplash

Photo 2 by NASA on Unsplash

Photo 3 by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

Photo 4 by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

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