Space hurricane detected over North Pole in 2014 rained electrons not rain

Scientists have reported a sighting of what they’re calling a ‘space hurricane’, as it spun for several hours above the North Pole on 20 August 2014.

According to a study titled, ‘A space hurricane over the Earth’s polar ionosphere’ published in the Nature Communications journal last month by international team of scientists observed 1000-km-wide swirling mass of plasma, many hundred kilometres above the North Pole. It “rained” electrons instead of water.

Charged particles raining into the ionosphere from incoming solar wind is usually the cause of the glowing green aurorae in Earth’s higher latitudes popularly known as the Northern lights. But conditions at the time didn’t show remarkable solar conditions. The study team modelling the conditions of the space hurricane to pinpoint the cause of the “plasma ruckus”.

The team of scientists led by China’s Shandong University analysed observations made by satellites and created a 3D image of the hurricane in the Earth’s ionosphere.

The study observed a hurricane, which occurred during a period of low geomagnetic activity in 2014 and it suggests that it is possibly one of many such events happening within our Solar System and beyond.

One of the scientists who participated in the study, Professor Michael Lockwood from the Department of Meteorology, University of Reading in the United Kingdom, says that until now, it was not clear that space plasma hurricanes even existed, and therefore to prove this with such a striking observation is an incredible achievement in itself.

The press release by the University of Reading further quoted Lockwood as saying that tropical storms are associated with huge amounts of energy, and these newly discovered space hurricanes are most likely created by unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

He further said that this phenomena is not unique to Earth since plasma and magnetic fields in the atmosphere of planets exist throughout the universe, and hence their findings suggest space hurricanes should be a widespread phenomena.

The study can prove to be a breakthrough in the field of weather and GPS systems since the presence of space hurricanes highlight the importance of improved monitoring of space weather, which is likely to disrupt GPS systems.