Scientists discover space tornadoes

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Mathematicians at The University of Sheffield are part of an international team to have discovered tornadoes in space - which could one day help to produce free, clean, energy on Earth.

The super tornadoes - which are thousands of times larger and more powerful than their earthly counterparts, but which have a magnetic skeleton - spin in the Sun’s atmosphere at speeds of more than 6,000mph, at temperatures in millions of centigrade.

They are more than 1,000 miles wide - hundreds of miles longer than the total distance between Land’s End to John O’Groats. It is estimated there are as many as 11,000 of these swirling events above the Sun’s surface at any time.

Applied mathematicians Professor Robertus Erdély and Dr Viktor Fedun from The University of Sheffield, collaborating with The University of Oslo, the Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics in Germany, and Uppsala University in Sweden, say the solar tornadoes carry the energy from below the Sun’s surface to the outer atmosphere in the form of magnetic waves.

Prof Erdélyi said: “If we understand how nature heats up magnetised plasmas, like in the tornadoes observed in the Sun, one day we may be able to use this process to develop the necessary technology and build devices on Earth that produce free, clean, green energy.”

He said the discovery could help in ‘unveiling the secrets about a great and exciting problem in plasma-astrophysics’.

Scientists viewed the solar tornadoes in the outer atmosphere of the Sun by using both satellite and ground-based telescopes. They then created 3D-layered seqences of images of the tornadoes and simulated their evolution with state-of-the-art numerical codes.