The spiral-armed storm swirled roughly 125 miles over the North Pole, churning in place for almost eight hours.
Illustration of a space hurricane, created using the observation dataQing-He Zhang / Shandong UniversityMarch 5, 2021, 8:46 AM NZDT / Updated March 5, 2021, 10:42 AM NZDTBy Denise Chow
When it comes to extreme weather, it’s safe to say a “space hurricane” qualifies.
Scientists said last week they observed a previously unknown phenomenon — a 620-mile-wide swirling mass of plasma that roiled for hours in Earth’s upper atmosphere, raining electrons instead of water.
The researchers labeled the disturbance a space hurricane because it resembled and behaved like the rotating storm systems that routinely batter coastlines around the world. But until now, they were not known to exist.
“It really wasn’t expected,” said Larry Lyons, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It wasn’t even theoretically known.”
Lyons was one of the authors of a study about the finding, which sheds new light on space weather events, that was published online Feb. 26 in the journal Nature Communications.
Scientists from China, the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom found the space hurricane while combing through satellite observations from August 2014. As satellitesorbited around the planet and passed over the North Pole, they caught glimpses of a massive disturbance in the upper atmosphere.
The spiral-armed space hurricane swirled roughly 125 miles over the North Pole, churning in place for almost eight hours, Lyons said.