Watch: Vortex of plasma spotted on Sun's poles for the first time
A massive filament of solar plasma broke off from the surface of the Sun earlier this month and has now formed a vortex of circular winds on the North Pole, Space.com reported. This is the first time such as vortex has been observed by solar scientists.
The Sun is currently approaching the peak of its solar cycle, an 11-year process where it flips its magnetic poles. Although astronomers have known about the solar cycle for centuries, modern-day equipment is now enabling us to study the solar cycle up close, and many new phenomena have been observed recently.
Typically, during active phases of the solar cycle, one can observe a large number of sunspots, areas of the Sun with intense magnetic fields. Solar flares, the emission of electromagnetic radiation from the Sun, can accompany these. Alternately, scientists have also observed coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that spew plasma into outer space, along with magnetic fields.
However, in the past year, solar scientists have also observed solar prominences, which are also known as filaments, depending on how they are observed from the Earth.
Prominence breaks away
According to NASA's website, solar prominence is a large bright feature that extends outward from the Sun's surface. It appears as a loop and is made up of plasma. It consists of hydrogen and helium.
WScientists refer to this as prominence when observed against the darkness of space, and scientists refer to this as prominence. However, when the same phenomenon is seen against the background of the Sun, it appears darker than its surroundings and is called a filament.
Space weather physicist Tamitha Skov recently shared a short video clip of images captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), where one such prominence is seen to be breaking away.
Talk about Polar Vortex! Material from a northern prominence just broke away from the main filament & 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° here cannot be overstated! pic.twitter.com/1SKhunaXvP— Dr. Tamitha Skov (@TamithaSkov) February 2, 2023
As Skov noted in her tweet, the plasma from the prominence later began circulating in a vortex around the poles.
Solar Dynamics above 55o
Skov further mentions in the tweet the importance of solar dynamics above 55o. By this, she is effectively referring to another phenomenon that solar scientists have been observing for years but do not really know why it occurs.
According to Space.com's report, once every solar cycle, the filament appears at the 55-degree latitude mark and heads toward the poles. Although scientists haven't witnessed the polar vortex seen in the clip above before, the breaking away of the filament, and that too at 55-degree latitude, is quite a common feature.
The cause of the filament has stumped researchers, Sun's poles, the event's occurrence, though. As the solar cycle involves the flipping of the Sun's poles, the event's occurrence is also likely linked to this. How it plays a role in events is something that scientists might be able to uncover n a few years from now.
The European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter Mission might be heading up to the 55-degree latitude to observe the event during its mission. But the mystery of the polar vortex is a new puzzle that scientists would like to solve.