by Alex Fox/Smithsonianmag.com
Researchers have used satellite observations to identify what they’re calling a “space hurricane” in Earth’s upper atmosphere, Nature reports. The results, published last month in the journal Nature Communications, represent the first time a space hurricane has ever been detected over our planet.
The team spotted the churning mass of charged particles—ionized gas called plasma—hovering several hundred miles above the North Pole during a retrospective analysis of data collected in August 2014, reports Doyle Rice for USA Today.
“Until now, it was uncertain that space plasma hurricanes even existed, so to prove this with such a striking observation is incredible,” Mike Lockwood, an astrophysicist at the University of Reading and co-author of the paper, in a statement.
The space hurricane described in the paper measured roughly 600 miles across and rained down charged electrons instead of water for nearly eight hours as it spun counter-clockwise at speeds up to 4,700 miles-per-hour, per the paper.
The 2014 space hurricane occurred during a period of relatively low geomagnetic activity, which created a puzzle, since it meant the space hurricane wasn’t the result of Earth’s ionosphere being lashed by the solar winds of a stormy sun.