Home Science Tornadoes on the Sun: Proof 'THOUSAND MILE-WIDE' magnetic maelstroms drive space weather

Tornadoes on the Sun: Proof 'THOUSAND MILE-WIDE' magnetic maelstroms drive space weather

The first measurements of the magnetic field in the chromosphere of the Sun by space scientists has proved solar magnetic fields can trigger tornadoes of an epic scale in the Sun’s atmosphere. Rotational motion is prevalent in nature, from maelstroms in rivers, airplane turbulence, to weather tornadoes and cyclones. And rotation is also found in space, such as the vortices seen in gas giant Jupiter’s atmosphere and the accretion disks of stars and in spiral galaxies.



The constant motions of the Sun’s surface is now known to create monstrous tornados in the chromosphere.

This study is opening the door to a new era of solar research

Dr Juie Shetye

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This is an atmospheric layer named after its crimson colour seen during total solar eclipses.

The tornadoes can stretch thousands of miles across and, like their namesakes, on Earth carry mass and energy high up into the atmosphere.

These are studied because these energy channels explain the extraordinary heating of the solar corona.

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Tornadoes on the Sun: Swirling solar magnetic fields trigger huge tornadoes in the Sun’s atmosphere (Image: Getty)

Tornadoes on the Sun: Evidence that solar tornadoes are produced by swirling magnetic fields (Image: University of Warwick)

The main building block of solar tornadoes are tangled magnetic fields.

However, it is notoriously difficult to measure the magnetic field in the Sun’s chromosphere.

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But this work by a team included physicists from University of Warwick and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) provides the first direct observation of the chromosphere magnetic field to reveal the magnetic nature of solar tornadoes.

The researchers have achieved the first three-dimensional tomography of the magnetic fields spiralling in a solar tornado and have measured their faint polarimetric signals.

Tornadoes on the Sun: Rotational motion is prevalent in nature (Image: Express)

Tornadoes on the Sun: The Sun’s coronal loops are visible in this photo (Image: NASA)

This breakthrough was made possible thanks to measurements taken with the Interferometric Bidimensional Spectrometer instrument (INAF IBIS) at the DST solar telescope in New Mexico.

Dr Juie Shetye from the Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics at the University of Warwick hailed the identification of twisted magnetic fields in such tornadoes as a breakthrough.

Dr Shetye said: “Direct measurements of the magnetic field in the chromosphere of the Sun has so far been elusive and this study is opening the door to a new era of solar research.

“Additionally, solar research is heading into a new epoch of solar observations with opening of next generation telescopes such as the four-metre Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii.

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“This telescope allows solar physicists to resolve magnetic fields at local county level.

“We are at the start of an exciting journey that will unravel the new magnetic entanglements of the Sun.”

The University of Warwick’s Dr Erwin Verwichte’s sophisticated analytical methods were used to investigate the fundamental nature of these waves.

Dr Verwichte said: “These chromospheric tornados are natural laboratories for studying the propagation of waves and the energy they carry into the corona.

Tornadoes on the Sun: Illustration shows the brutal solar wind (Image: NASA)

“Our study reveals that phase patterns of sound waves in the tornado can mimic rotation and need to be accounted for when measuring the strength of solar tornados.”

Mariarita Murabito, researcher at Rome-INAF, added: “Since their discovery in 2011, the numerical simulations have suggested that the rotating structures observed in the solar chromosphere are tracers of magnetic structures that by their rotation force the solar plasma to move upwards along the magnetic field lines through centrifugal forces.

“This plasma flow can be accelerated towards the overlying layers of the Sun’s atmosphere.

“There were however no observational evidences of these processes.

“Confirming the magnetic nature of solar tornadoes is an important knowledge step.”


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