NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has captured stunning footage of a five million degree plasma tornado, which raged above the surface of the sun for nearly two full days at the beginning of this month.
The amazing event was filmed from Sept 1-3, according to Grind TV, and a time-lapse video was posted on Tuesday by NASA. The tornado was actually a complex mass of plasma that was acted on by the Sun’s powerful magnetic forces, and while it was “stretched and pulled back and forth,” it wasn’t ripped apart.
— Marcus Strom (@strom_m) September 10, 2015
“The temperature of the ionized iron particles observed in this extreme ultraviolet wavelength of light was about 5 million degrees Fahrenheit… SDO captures imagery in many wavelengths, each of which represents different temperatures of material, and each of which highlights different events on the sun. Each wavelength is typically colorized in a pre-assigned color. Wavelengths of 335 Angstroms, such as are represented in this picture, are colorized in blue.”
Though small in comparison to the size of the sun, the tornado dwarfed the Earth, as the Huffington Post points out. The plasma that comprised the tornado rose to a height of 43,500 miles above the surface of the sun, roughly five times the size of our planet. SDO project scientist William Pesnell related that the plasma within it was moving at roughly 10,000 miles per hour. In comparison, the most powerful tornadoes on Earth reach speeds of just 300 miles per hour.
Watch a tornado on the sun http://t.co/Gra6mleOcX pic.twitter.com/2kmdPEqRK2
— WGAL (@WGAL) September 12, 2015
Though astonishing, the tornado isn’t the first of its kind to be observed on the surface of the Sun. In 2012, the SDO recorded another tornado of a similar magnitude. That formation reached staggering temperatures, between 90,000 and 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit.
NASA Captures Footage Of Gigantic Sun Tornado – http://t.co/JCHHDzm248 pic.twitter.com/51JZhm1kv4
— World and Science (@WorldAndScience) September 11, 2015
While ejections of plasma are common on the sun, Professor Iver Cairns, a solar physicist at the University of Sydney, noted that they hardly ever take the shape of a tornado. The first such event was only recorded in 2010, he pointed out, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Since the tornado occurred near the Sun’s equator, Cairns suggested that the Coriolis force (which is a product of both the Sun and Earth’s rotation) could be a factor. A much more likely cause, however, is “the phenomenon of magnetic reconnection,” he asserted. This process is responsible for the Sun’s magnetic forces being changed into kinetic and thermal energy.
[Photo by NASA/ Solar Dynamics Observatory via Grind TV]