-By Lalit Koundaal
What ‘Nature Communications’ published on 22 Feb 2021 was something unprecedented from the space and never observed earlier. This time the scientists were able to see, otherwise invisible, the light-show of auroras up in the space.
They could see it through the four satellites of the Defence Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). These scientists used all the information gathered from satellites, radars to form the complete picture of what happened.
What actually happened? It’s the space hurricane that occurred during the period of low geomagnetic activity. This could be a phenomenon occurring very often, but since scientists now have sentinels positioned in large numbers, spotting the hurricane was possible only this time. Scientists used 3D magnetosphere modeling to produce the image of space hurricanes. To date, scientists were uncertain about the existence of plasma (ionized gas found all over the solar system, including in Earth’s atmosphere) hurricanes created by large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
We are generally aware of hurricanes in the Earth’s lower atmosphere over warm bodies of water and their potential to cause massive destruction which for mankind is sometimes next to impossible to recover from for decades.
“Here, we present an observation of a long-lasting, large and energetic space hurricane in the northern polar ionosphere that deposited solar wind/ magnetosphere energy and momentum into the ionosphere during a several-hour period of northward IMF and very low solar wind density and speed.”
This was exactly the introduction given in the paper published by these 14 scientists from China, the USA, Norway & the UK in ‘Nature Communications.’
Very similar to hurricanes in the low atmosphere, astronomers have spotted hurricanes on Mars, and Saturn, and Jupiter. There are also solar gases swirling in monstrous formations deep within the sun’s atmosphere, called solar tornadoes with widths of several Earth radii.
However, hurricanes have not been reported in the upper atmosphere of the planets in our heliosphere. Although vortex structures of the aurora, called auroral spirals, often appear to evolve from arc-like auroras to a train of two or more spirals of diameter ~50 km in the Earth’s nightside auroral oval.
Highlights of Analysis-
The auroral observations from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) showed up a cyclone-like auroral spot around the north magnetic pole and –
– Swirling mass was 1000-km wide and was composed of plasma, several hundred kilometers above the north pole.
– Raining electrons instead of water.
– The hurricane was spinning in anticlockwise direction, had multiple spiral
– Hurricane lasted for almost eight hours
– Hurricane was invisible to the naked eye
Is there something to worry about?
Space weather forecasters observed during the Vietnam war that there was one region on the sun that appeared to be more active than usual. They kept their eyes on the region until it came out in Aug1972 on the east limb of the sun. It was already large. It started producing solar flares, coronal mass ejections. The whole thing reached the earth in just 14.6 hrs, at about 2800 km per second, carrying a tremendous amount of magnetic field and mass with it. When that mass hit the earth our earth’s magnetic field buckled. When it hit the earth, the sea mines blew up in Haiphong Harbor in Aug 1972 and this is one of the biggest, recorded aftermaths of the coronal mass ejections. It is very much recorded in US Navy briefs as they lost the mines due to the trigger pressed by nature not them.
Later in 1967, great storm and radio disruption event was recorded.
Our sun is a huge ball of magnetized gas & plasma and planet earth has got sufficient magnetic protection. But when the Sun decides to vomit out a huge mass of energetic particles and falls on the earth, the currents of higher magnitudes get generated and destroys all our technological set up which is not easy to build again.
Experts predict that nation or world-wide power outages would last at least a month, communication capability would be severely crippled owing to the loss of multiple satellites. The impact on the economy is estimated to be in the trillions of dollars.
Studies by the scientist like the present one are going to provide us with future-readiness and understanding of the space weather. I fail to understand, how space hurricanes can be less dangerous or cause no danger at all !!
Well, at least we know that they do exist.