NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) satellite has captured images and video of a tornado on the sun several times as large as the Earth.
Last September the SDO satellite filmed this twirling mass of superheated gas, which ranges in temperature from 50,000 to 2,000,000 Kelvin, over the course of three hours. The tornado was 200,000 kilometers in height, which is a little more than half the distance between the Earth and the moon. It spun at nearly 300,000 kilometers per hour.
Solar tornados are not created by wind, though – the sun’s magnetic fields twist these formations up from its surface. They often occur at the root of huge coronal mass ejections, which can damage satellites and knock out electricity grids when ejected in the direction of Earth.
“This unique and spectacular tornado must play a role in triggering global solar storms,” said Dr. Huw Morgan, co-discoverer of solar tornadoes.
This particular tornado was presented in Manchester, England at the National Astronomy Meeting on Thursday. Though other solar tornadoes have been observed, this one was the first one caught on film.
“This is perhaps the first time that such a huge solar tornado [has been] filmed by an imager. Previously much smaller solar tornadoes were found my SOHO satellite. But they were not filmed,” says Dr. Xing Li
Subsequent tornadoes were filmed in February, as can be seen in this video: