Giant Solar Tornado Makes a Film Debut

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March 29 2012 5:31 PM

Giant Solar Tornado Makes a Film Debut

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(A giant solar tornado from last fall large enought to swallow up 5 planet Earths is the first of its kind caught on film. In this handout from NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a X5.4 solar flare, the largest in five years, erupts from the sun's surface March 6, 2012.)

Photo by NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) via Getty Images

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.

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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.

Video produced by Paca Thomas

Ben Johnson is the producer of Marketplace Tech from American Public Media.

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