The first measurements of the magnetic field in the chromosphere of the Sun by space scientists has proved solar magnetic fields can trigger tornadoes of an epic scale in the Sun’s atmosphere. Rotational motion is prevalent in nature, from maelstroms in rivers, airplane turbulence, to weather tornadoes and cyclones. And rotation is also found in space, such as the vortices seen in gas giant Jupiter’s atmosphere and the accretion disks of stars and in spiral galaxies.
The constant motions of the Sun’s surface is now known to create monstrous tornados in the chromosphere.
This is an atmospheric layer named after its crimson colour seen during total solar eclipses.
The tornadoes can stretch thousands of miles across and, like their namesakes, on Earth carry mass and energy high up into the atmosphere.
These are studied because these energy channels explain the extraordinary heating of the solar corona.
This breakthrough was made possible thanks to measurements taken with the Interferometric Bidimensional Spectrometer instrument (INAF IBIS) at the DST solar telescope in New Mexico.
Dr Juie Shetye from the Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics at the University of Warwick hailed the identification of twisted magnetic fields in such tornadoes as a breakthrough.
Dr Shetye said: “Direct measurements of the magnetic field in the chromosphere of the Sun has so far been elusive and this study is opening the door to a new era of solar research.
“Additionally, solar research is heading into a new epoch of solar observations with opening of next generation telescopes such as the four-metre Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii.
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“Our study reveals that phase patterns of sound waves in the tornado can mimic rotation and need to be accounted for when measuring the strength of solar tornados.”
Mariarita Murabito, researcher at Rome-INAF, added: “Since their discovery in 2011, the numerical simulations have suggested that the rotating structures observed in the solar chromosphere are tracers of magnetic structures that by their rotation force the solar plasma to move upwards along the magnetic field lines through centrifugal forces.
“This plasma flow can be accelerated towards the overlying layers of the Sun’s atmosphere.
“There were however no observational evidences of these processes.
“Confirming the magnetic nature of solar tornadoes is an important knowledge step.”