Mid Wales

Solar tornadoes captured on film by Aberystwyth University

Scientists at Aberystwyth University have discovered and filmed a group of solar tornadoes - several times as wide as the Earth - on the face of the Sun.

Researchers found the storms using an atmospheric telescope on board NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO).

They will present a movie of their findings at a National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester on Thursday.

"This is perhaps the first time that such a huge solar tornado is filmed by an imager," said lecturer Dr Xing Li.

The academic from the university's Institute of Mathematics and Physics added: "Previously much smaller solar tornadoes were found by SOHO satellite.

"But they were not filmed."

Space weather

The solar tornadoes were observed on 25 September 2011.

They were discovered using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) telescope on board NASA's SDO satellite, which was launched in February 2010.

It monitors solar variations so scientists can understand the cause of the change and eventually have a capability to predict the space weather.

Dr Huw Morgan, co-discover of the solar tornado, said: "This unique and spectacular tornado must play a role in triggering global solar storms."

The AIA saw superheated gases as hot as 50,000 to 2,000,000 Kelvin (47,250 to 2,000,000 Celsius) sucked from the root of a dense structure called prominence, and spiral up into the high atmosphere and travel about 200,000km (125,000 miles) along helical paths for a period of at least three hours.

The hot gases in the tornadoes have speeds as high as 300,000km per hour (186,400mph).

Gas speeds of terrestrial tornadoes can reach 150km per hour (93mph).

The tornadoes often occur at the root of huge coronal mass ejections.

When heading toward the Earth, these coronal mass ejections can cause significant damage to the earth's space environment, satellites, even knock out the electricity grid.

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