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Solar Tornadoes Dance Across Sun's Surface in NASA Video

Tornado-like plasma twisters dance across the sun in this still from a NASA video recorded by the Solar Dynamics Observatory during a 30-hour period between Feb. 7 and 8 in 2012.
Tornado-like plasma twisters dance across the sun in this still from a NASA video recorded by the Solar Dynamics Observatory during a 30-hour period between Feb. 7 and 8 in 2012. (Image credit: NASA/SDO)

A NASA spacecraft has captured an amazing video of solar twisters blowing across the surface of the sun.

The tornado-like eruptions of super-hot plasma were spotted by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which is constantly recording high-definition videos of the sun.

The sun tornado video shows swirling fountains of plasma creeping across the surface of the sun during a 30-hour period between Feb. 7 and 8. But unlike tornadoes on Earth, which are wind-driven phenomena, the sun's plasma tornadoes are shaped by the powerful magnetic field of our star.

"An active region rotating into view provides a bright backdrop to the gyrating streams of plasma," SDO mission scientists explained in a video description. "The particles are being pulled this way and that by competing magnetic forces. They are tracking along strands of magnetic field lines."

In the video, cooler plasma material appears as darker spots on a bright background. The SDO spacecraft recorded the video in the extreme ultraviolet range of the light spectrum, giving the movie an eerie yellow hue.

NASA released the new SDO video to mark the second anniversary of the spacecraft's mission, which launched on Feb. 11, 2010. The $850 million spacecraft is on a five-year mission to record high-definition videos of the sun to help astronomers better understand how changes in the sun's solar weather cycle can affect life on Earth.

The sun is currently in an active period of its 11-year weather cycle. The current cycle is known as Solar Cycle 24 and will peak in 2013.

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the Space.com team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.

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