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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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For a 30 hour spell (Feb 7-8, 2012) the Solar Dynamics Observatory captured plasma caught in a magnetic dance across the Sun's surface. The results closely resemble extreme tornadic activity on Earth. - Original Music by Mark C. Petersen, Loch Ness Productions
Vast solar tornado spins on the sun
A tremendous tornado whirling across the surface of the sun was captured by a NASA satellite recently -- an amazing wonder of the solar system that may be as big as the Earth itself.
The video was recorded by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a sun-watching satellite that has transmitted a series of stunning photos of solar flares in recent months. The new video shows darker, cooler plasma shifting back and forth above the sun's surface over the span of nearly 30 hours stretching from Feb. 7 to Feb. 8.
And the giant tornado may be as large as the Earth itself, with gusts of up to 300,000 mph,
explained Terry Kucera, deputy SOHO project scientist and a solar physicist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Tornado Season On The Sun?
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