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Super tornadoes blast heat from Sun

U. SHEFFIELD (UK) — Super tornadoes in space—more than 1,000 miles wide and spinning at more than 6,000 mph—could help explain the extreme temperatures of the Sun’s atmosphere.

The super tornadoes—which are thousands of times larger and more powerful than their earthly counterparts but which have a magnetic skeleton—have temperatures in millions of centigrade in the Sun’s atmosphere.



It is estimated that there are as many as 11,000 of these swirling events above the Sun’s surface at any time.

Applied mathematicians from the University of Sheffield and their collaborators say the solar tornadoes carry the energy from the energy reservoir below the Sun’s surface, called the convection zone, to the outer atmosphere in the form of magnetic waves.

Professor Robertus Erdélyi, head of the Solar Physics and Space Plasma Research Centre (SP2RC) of the School of Mathematics and Statistics, says: “If we understand how nature heats up magnetized plasmas, like in the tornadoes observed in the Sun, one day we may be able to use this process to develop the necessary technology and build devices on Earth that produce free, clean, green energy.

“Because of our collaborative research it looks an essential leap forward is made towards unveiling the secrets about a great and exciting problem in plasma-astrophysics and we are getting closer and closer to find a solution.

“We report here the discovery of ubiquitous magnetic solar tornadoes and their signature in the hottest areas of the Sun’s atmosphere where the temperature is a few millions of degree kelvin, about thousands of kilometers from the Sun’s surface. This is a major step in the field.”

Erdélyi adds: “One of the major problems in modern astrophysics is why the atmosphere of a star, like our own Sun, is considerably hotter than its surface? Imagine, that you climb a mountain, e.g. a monroe in the Scottish highlands, and it becomes hotter as you go higher and higher. Many scientists are researching how to “heat” the atmosphere above the surface of the Sun, or any other star.

“It is understood that the energy originates from below the Sun’s surface, but how this massive amount of energy travels up to the solar atmosphere surrounding it is a mystery.

“We believe we have found evidence in the form of rotating magnetic structures—solar tornadoes—that channel the necessary energy in the form of magnetic waves to heat the magnetized solar plasma. It is hoped that the process could be replicated here on Earth one day to energize plasma in tokamak that are believed to be a future device to produce completely clean energy.”

As reported in Nature, the scientists viewed the solar tornadoes in the outer atmosphere of the Sun, stretching thousands of miles from the giant star’s surface by using both satellite and ground-based telescopes. They then created 3-D-layered sequence of images of the tornadoes and simulated their evolution with state-of-the-art numerical codes using the magnetic imprints detected by their high-resolution, cutting-edge telescopes.

The study’s authors also include scientists from University of Oslo in Norway, Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics of Freiburg, Germany, and Uppsala University in Sweden.

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