NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has recently captured what appears to be the “tallest tornado” ever recorded in the solar system. The incredible swirling vortex of boiling plasma continued to grow in the sun’s atmosphere for a remarkable three days, reaching an awe-inspiring height of approximately 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers), or 14 Earths, on Saturday (March 18), before ultimately collapsing into a cloud of magnetized gas. This remarkable event was initially reported by SpaceWeather, which has since confirmed that the ejected material from the solar tornado will not have any impact on Earth.
“This 14-Earths-tall swirling column of plasma was raining moon-sized gobs of incandescent material on the sun,” astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy tweeted on Saturday (March 18), sharing a sequence of his observations. “I can’t imagine a more hellish place,” he added.
Following the discovery of this remarkable occurrence, many amateur astronomers excitedly pointed their telescopes at the sun’s north pole to witness the spectacular phenomenon for themselves. Meanwhile, the UK space weather forecaster, Met Office, has classified the sun’s activity as “moderate,” noting the presence of six sunspots visible on the star’s disk. The largest of these spots is located near the sun’s southeastern edge and could potentially produce solar flares and plasma eruptions in the upcoming days, which could have an impact on space weather around our planet.
Additionally, two coronal holes have been identified, which are openings in the sun’s magnetic field that exist in the sun’s upper atmosphere, known as the corona. These coronal holes are currently emitting large quantities of speedy solar wind, which is a stream of magnetized gas that has the potential to trigger geomagnetic storms at Earth when it interacts with the planet’s magnetic field. The Met Office has predicted that there may be a minor, G1 geomagnetic storm in the coming days, which could still be enough to supercharge aurora displays at higher latitudes.
Overall, the sun’s recent activity has been both fascinating and potentially consequential, with a number of remarkable phenomena being observed and recorded by scientists and amateur astronomers alike. While the possibility of geomagnetic storms and their potential effects on Earth may cause some concern, it is also an exciting opportunity to witness the natural wonders of our solar system.