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Scientists at Cern, the Geneva-based European laboratory for particle physics, are revealing their latest findings in their search for the Higgs boson. Here, science correspondent Ian Sample -- author of Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle -- explains what a Higgs boson is, how Cern physicists are looking for it, and why it matters if they find it
This enormous tornado erupting from the surface of the sun is big enough to swallow the Earth. In fact, it could swallow five Earths.
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.
The only thing more terrifying than a giant twister on Earth is one on the face of the sun. A monstrous tornado has been observed erupting on our star, and its numbers are staggering.
So big it could swallow five Earths in one gulp, the swirling vortex observed last September and presented at this week's National Astronomy Meeting in England grew to a height of 125,000 miles, about half the distance between Earth and the moon. The temperature of the plume of superheated gas measured between 90,000 and 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit and was accelerated to speeds approaching 186,000 miles per hour.
Discovered by NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory, this Master Blaster is thought to be the first Solar Tornado ever filmed, and may help us understand the kinds of large particle eruptions that recently came flying at us from the ball of gas. As our local star approaches Solar Max, the peak activity of an 11-year cycle, 2012 is shaping up to be one spectacular year for space weather.