This vivid twist represents a solar cyclone, made of plasma, or ionized gas, moving along swirling magnetic fields on the Sun. It is a computer simulation of the storms on the Sun, created using data from a space telescope at NASA’s orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Swedish 1-meter Solar Telescope on Earth.
These solar cyclones may help to answer a question that scientists had long wondered about: why is the sun’s atmosphere more than 300 times hotter than its surface? Scientists previously thought that the heat came from the surface of the sun, but how it traveled to the surface was unclear. Now, researchers think that these solar storms, as many as 11,000 at once, funnel heat from the sun’s surface to the corona, as they reported in Nature.
Image via Wedemeyer-Böhm et al/Nature Publishing Group
An 1865 painting by Frederic Edwin Church, possibly inspired by the aurora of 1859.
On September 1, 1859, the sky erupted in color: “alternating great pillars, rolling cumuli shooting streamers, curdled and wisped and fleecy waves—rapidly changing its hue from red to orange, orange to yellow, and yellow to white, and back in the same order to brilliant red,” read a New York Times account. This was the aurora seen around the world.
Meanwhile, the telegraph operators were perplexed to find that the system suddenly failed. None of the lines worked, and telegraph paper spontaneously caught on fire. The aurora and disconnected telegraphs were both the working of the largest solar storm recorded in history.