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Discovered using NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory satellite, this colossal twisting mass is made up of superheated gas at a temperature of between 90,000 and 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit.
Over the course of three hours, this behemoth reached up from the sun's surface to a height of 125,000 miles, or roughly half the distance between the Earth and the moon. The hot gases were whipped up to nearly 186,000 miles per hour. In comparison, the wind speed of terrestrial tornadoes generally reaches a paltry 100 miles per hour.
Scientists have previously seen smaller solar tornadoes with other sun-observing satellites but this one — spotted in September 2011 — is thought to be the first one ever filmed (left). Since then, researchers have seen at least one more solar tornado, an Earth-sized twister seen in the video below.
These tornadoes often precede events known as coronal mass ejections — huge eruptions of charged particles that blast out of the sun's surface with tremendous energy. Such flare-ups are thought to be related to interactions among the sun's magnetic field lines, whose corkscrewing movements also shape the solar tornado.
The top images and movie were presented at the National Astronomy Meeting 2012 in Manchester, England on Mar. 29.
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Also check out the excellent NASA solar information and videos at:
For up to the minute websites go to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center:
Also an invaluable resource, often with interesting pictures at space weather.com
A wonderful Magnetospheric Simulation can be found at: NICT, http://www2.nict.go.jp/y/y223/simulation/realtime/home.html
There is a wealth of information and background on the various satellite and observatory websites (and links therein), e.g.,
If you want to play with the data you MUST check out: http://helioviewer.org/
Want to find your own comets: http://sungrazer.nrl.navy.mil/
On March 7, 2012 just a few minutes after midnight UT time the active region (AR11429) unleashed two strong X-class flare. The first, X5.4-class, showed a very bright flare, the second right after, X1-class, hurled a second coronal mass ejection into Space.
Also seen can be a wave going across the Sun at approx. 1,000,000 mph - also known as a Solar Tsunami.
Here are various views of this events over a couple of hours, including some close-up views of the Sunspot 1429.
Credit: NASA SDO & Dr. A. Kosovichev, HMI