Nothing to See Here, Just an Earth-Sized Tornado on the Surface of the Sun
In early February, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured footage of whirling tornado-like storm on the surface of the sun. This enormous mass of plasma raged for over a day and was estimated to be larger than the Earth. Of course, it’s not a tornado in the same way that we understand them here on Earth. It’s obviously way bigger, way more terrifying, and way weirder.
While terrestrial tornadoes are the result of competing pressure fronts and the cooling of air, events on the sun are governed by gravity and magnetism. “The particles are being pulled this way and that by competing magnetic forces,” writes NASA on the SDO website. “They are tracking along strands of magnetic field lines.”
The particles of plasma in the storm are relatively cooler, a mere 15,000 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the 2 million degree sun. This makes the solar prominence, which is what the “tornado” is classified as, appear darker than the bright background. The pull between those competing magnetic forces whip the cooler plasma into a whirlwind, apparently moving at some 300,000 miles per hour.
What’s perhaps more shocking is when you consider that the core of the “tornado” is about the size of the Earth, then the ribbons flowing from it back to the sun’s surface are dozens of times larger than our home planet. Kind of puts the whole thing into perspective doesn’t it?
Sun tornadoes are one thing to read about, but take a look at the video below to see this monster in motion.