For the first time, astronomers have detected a powerful, 600-mile-wide (1,000 kilometers) hurricane of plasma in Earth’s upper atmosphere — a phenomenon they’re calling a “space hurricane.”
The space hurricane raged for nearly 8 hours on Aug. 20, 2014, swirling hundreds of miles above Earth’s magnetic North Pole, according to a study published Feb. 22 in the journal Nature Communications.
Made from a tangled mess of magnetic field lines and fast-flying solar wind, the hurricane was invisible to the naked eye — however, four weather satellites that passed over the North Pole detected a formation not unlike a typical terrestrial hurricane, the study authors wrote. The space hurricane was shaped like a funnel with a quiet “eye” at the center, surrounded by several counterclockwise-spinning spiral arms of plasma (ionized gas found all over the solar system, including in Earth’s atmosphere).
Instead of raining water, the space hurricane rained electrons directly into Earth’s upper atmosphere.