Telescope video shows part of the sun breaking away and forming a vortex, making scientists scratch their heads

the video shows a sphere of red plasma in solar rotation with a filament emerging from above and then detaching and rotating around the north pole

A prominence emerges near the north solar pole, then appears to break away and swirl into a vortex.NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

  • Video from a NASA telescope shows part of the sun breaking away and rotating around its north pole.

  • A solar physicist called the polar vortex a “scientific curiosity” and has seen nothing like it.

  • More plasma is building up to take off at the sun’s north pole, which is a once-in-decade event.

It appears that a giant plasma filament broke away from the sun and spun around its north pole in a tornado-like vortex.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the mysterious event on Feb. 2.

“Let’s talk about Polar Vortex,” continued Tamitha Skov, space meteorologist Chirping.

He added that the telescope footage appeared to show a solar prominence, a large, bright filament extending from the sun, but anchored to the solar surface. In this case, however, it appears that part of the filament has broken off and started circling our star’s north pole.

“This is the first time I’ve seen something like this,” Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist and deputy director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Insider in an email. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s never happened before, he added.

The filament that seemed to detach from the solar surface and turn into a vortex is enormous. This NASA image putting Earth next to a solar prominence should give you an idea of ​​scale:

hot plasma of the sun's surface with a giant arc twisting and a tiny earth superimposed nearby for scale

A solar eruptive prominence seen in extreme UV light with Earth superimposed for a sense of scale.NASA/SDO

Though he’s never seen the vortex before, McIntosh told that a solar prominence appears at the same spot — at 55 degrees latitude — during every 11-year solar cycle. It’s likely related to the sun’s magnetic field that reverses every solar cycle, but the exact mechanism that causes it is a mystery.

The vortex it seemed to create last week is just as mysterious.

“His looks are more beautiful than baffling,” said McIntosh. “Our initial observation was more of a nut thing.”

The most extreme activity is developing at the north pole of the sun

On Friday morning, more plasma appeared to be swirling at the solar north pole.

The formation of cold plasma on the surface of the solar pole appears to be preparing to surge, or explode, into space. It happens about once a decade, McIntosh said.

This activity is “perhaps more typical and a lot less whirlwind than the event we saw last week,” he added.

Since all of these flares are happening at the sun’s north pole, none of them are pointed at Earth, so they don’t have the disruptive effects on GPS and radio that some solar flares can cause.

“These aren’t Earth-disruptive events at all, just a genuine scientific curiosity about what’s happening at the poles,” he said.

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