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A Rare Cosmic Event

In the first week of February 2023, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) captured the very moment when a piece of the Sun’s northern pole broke off, or a large filament of plasma (electrified gas) was seen blasting out from the Sun, splitting, and then circling in a Vast Polar Vortex. As expected, the never-seen-before phenomenon has astonished all the scientific minds connected to space. They have started analysing why this happened.

Soon after the James Webb Telescope of the US Civil Space Research agency filmed the incident, the perplexed scientists opined that the prominence was related to the reversal of the Sun’s magnetic field, which occurs once every solar cycle. Dr Tamitha Skov, a Space Weather Forecaster by profession, uploaded a video on Twitter in the second week of February, saying that it was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Dr Skov explained that the radiation from the Sun often affects the communication system of the Earth. Naturally, this cosmic event will have an impact on the Earth. She tweeted: “Talk about the polar vortex! Material from a northern prominence just broke away from the main filament and is now circulating in a massive polar vortex around the north pole of our star. Implications for understanding the Sun’s atmospheric dynamics above 55 degrees here cannot be overstated!” According to Dr Skov, that place (or space of the Sun) is not fixed, but rotating.

According to astronomers, there is depression over a large area at both Poles of the Earth. In fact, a polar vortex is commonly defined as a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s Poles, while vortex refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles. A prominence is a large, bright feature that extends outward from the Sun’s surface. In other words, when cold air rotates anti-clockwise, it is called the Polar Vortex. Generally, it weakens during summer, and gains strength in winter.

Watch: Solar Polar Vortex

Scott McIntosh, the Deputy Director of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado and a Solar Physicist, has been observing the Sun for decades. He told that he had never seen such a scene. He stressed: “Once every solar cycle, it forms at the 55 degree latitude and it starts to march up to the solar poles.” McIntosh added: “It is very curious. There is a big ‘why’ question around it. Why does it only move toward the pole one time, and then disappears and then comes back, magically, three or four years later in exactly the same region?

Watch: Explanations by Dr Skov

According to NASA, a very bright tornado is rotating around the outer surface of the Sun. Astronomers believe that further observations are required to understand this tornado more clearly. However, Dr Skov has called this cosmic phenomenon Solar Polar Vortex. She wrote on Twitter: “More observations of the Solar Polar Vortex reveal it took roughly eight hours for material to circumnavigate the pole at approximately 60 degree latitude. This means an upper bound in the estimation of horizontal wind speed in this event is 96km per second or 60 miles a second.

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