Discovery of Magnetic Nature of Solar Tornadoes Opens Door to New Era in Studies of the Sun


The perpetual motion of the surface of the Sun generates huge tornados in its atmospheric layer, which, similar to their namesakes on Earth, present a swirling vortex of mass and energy, and are studied by scientists seeking to unravel the mystery behind the extraordinary heating of the solar corona.

Groundbreaking observational evidence that giant tornadoes registered in the atmosphere of our Sun are produced by swirling magnetic fields has been provided by a new study, writes

A team of collaborators from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF), the University of Warwick and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) reached their conclusions after making the first direct measurements of the magnetic field in the chromosphere of the sun. The chromosphere is an atmospheric layer named after the red colour visible to us during total solar eclipses.

The study, “Unveiling the magnetic nature of chromospheric vortices”, accepted for publishing in the Astronomy & Astrophysics journal, details how the team achieved the first three-dimensional tomography of magnetic fields inside a solar tornado. The scientists also measured the faint polarimetric signals of the swirling mass and energy.

The moon moves in front of the sun in a rare “ring of fire” solar eclipse as seen from Singapore on December 26, 2019.

The study was made possible thanks to measurements taken with the INAF IBIS instrument (Interferometric Bidimensional Spectrometer) at the Dunn Solar Telescope (DST) in New Mexico (US).

​Underscoring the breakthrough nature of the study, a member of the research team Dr. Juie Shetye from the Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics at the University of Warwick said:

Nature’s Maelstroms

As rotational motion is manifest in nature, seen in river vortexes tornados and cyclones, on the scale of the Universe rotation is registered in vortices in the atmosphere of Jupiter, and in spiral galaxies.

The motions of the Sun’s surface trigger powerful tornados – a few thousand kilometers in diameter – in the chromosphere.

Scientists study these tornados as energy channels that could explain the driving force behind the solar corona’s remarkable heating.

Flash on the Sun. December 19, 2014

Solar tornados are built of magnetic fields in the sun’s chromosphere that are notoriously challenging to measure.

The new research is a trailblazer in this respect, as it represents the first direct observation of the chromosphere magnetic field to probe the magnetic nature of solar tornados.

Dr. Erwin Verwichte of the University of Warwick said that sophisticated analytical methods were used to investigate the fundamental nature of the magnetic waves.

According to the scientists, a collaboration from various INAF institutes and Universities is working to update the Interferometric Bidimensional Spectrometer so that it might be further utilized for new, enhanced-resolution observations of the sun’s atmosphere to “advance understanding of the physical processes underlying the solar activity and space weather.”


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