Monday, April 27, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to come out of the basement: now there are "space tornadoes" that move at 1 million mph

The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, five miles outside Kearney, Neb., on the evening of May 14, 2005. Photo by Mark Urwiller

Further information about these storms could also help scientists learn about storms forecasting the possible damage to manmade devices such as power grids. A report by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that a major storm during the next peak could cripple power grids and other communications systems, with adverse effects leading to a potential loss of governmental control of the situation.

The THEMIS team further investigated space tornadoes that are funnels of hot charged particles around the Earth, and can reach speeds of over 1.6 million kilometers per hour (1 million miles per hour). As the ions circle they create what is known as auroras. Because of this great speed, the space tornadoes can produce electrical currents greater than 100,000 amperes (a 60-watt light bulb draws about half an ampere). The tornadoes then channel this current of flowing electric charge along twisted magnetic field lines into Earth's ionosphere to ignite the auroras. Click here for the complete article. Suddenly those Thursday thunderstorms don't look so bad...

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