Giant, 1 million MPH space tornadoes drive northern lights

Northern Lights

Huge space tornadoes blasting gases at speeds of over a million miles per hour channel electric currents toward the Earth and help create the natural phenomena known as the Northern Lights.

NASA space probes made the discovery as they passed through the tornadoes during their orbit of Earth. Ground measurements showed that the space tornadoes channel the electrical current into the ionosphere to spark bright and colorful auroras on Earth.

A cluster of five probes known as Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) were launched by NASA in 2007 to solve the mystery about the origin of magnetic storms that power the Northern and Southern Lights

Space tornadoes generate huge amounts of electrical currents inside the funnel. These currents flow along twisted magnetic field lines from space into the ionosphere where they power several processes, most notably bright auroras such as the Northern Lights, according to Andreas Keiling, a research space physicist at the University of California, Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, which runs THEMIS.

While these intense currents do not cause any direct harm to humans, on the ground they can damage man-made structures, such as power transformers, Keiling stated.

Earth-bound tornadoes are puny compared to "space tornadoes," which span a volume as large as Earth and produce electrical currents exceeding 100,000 amperes, Keiling said in a statement.

THEMIS probes last year discovered the reason why  aurora borealis seems to dance inn the sky: Intense substorms produce changes in the auroral displays seen near Earth's northern and southern magnetic poles, causing a burst of light and movement.

Specifically NASA said  these observations confirm for the first time that magnetic reconnection triggers the onset of substorms. The discovery supports the reconnection model of substorms, which asserts a substorm starting to occur follows a particular pattern. This pattern consists of a period of reconnection, followed by rapid auroral brightening and rapid expansion of the aurora toward the poles. This culminates in a redistribution of the electrical currents flowing in space around Earth.

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