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Plasma streams off the surface of the sun in this image from earlier in February. (NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory)

VIDEO: A Tornado On The Sun

by Andrew Prince
Feb 17, 2012

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Andrew Prince

Here's something you don't see every day: a tornado on the surface of the sun. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory posted this stunning video, which shows the sun's plasma sliding and spinning around in the star's magnetic fields for 30 hours earlier this month.

Terry Kucera, a solar physicist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told Fox News that the tornado might be as large as the Earth itself and have gusts up to 300,000 miles per hour. By comparison, the strongest tornadoes on earth, F5 storms, clock wind speeds at a relatively paltry (though incredibly destructive) 300 mph.

The sun is an extremely active star, regularly spitting radiation and atomic particles into space. This space weather has direct impacts here on Earth, like forcing the rerouting of planes and lighting up the auroras.

Our friends at the 13.7 blog dive into how solar weather works, and if you're looking for some more stellar images of the sun, head over to the Solar Dynamic Observatory's Pick of the Week.

(Andrew Prince is a producer on NPR's Science Desk.)

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