How Super-Tornadoes Heat Up Sun's Atmosphere (Infographic)
The mystery of the amazingly hot solar atmosphere may have been solved. Giant twisters many times bigger than the sun could be transporting the heat from its surface.
Credit: Karl Tate, Contributor

Astronomers have puzzled over where the heat comes from to warm the sun’s atmosphere. While the surface of the sun is a relatively cool 5,000 degrees, the atmosphere, called the corona, can be millions of degrees hotter.

A study of data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has led scientists to conclude that it could be huge vortices, called solar super-tornadoes, on the sun’s surface that are conducting the heat out to the corona. One of these vortices can be five times as wide as the entire Earth.

One of these mega-twisters can form where the sun’s magnetic field lines connect the surface of the sun to the low corona. The scientists have calculated that a solar super-tornado can transport the energy required to heat the corona to temperature that is observed.

Fourteen of these solar super-tornadoes have been directly observed, but there could be more than 10,000 present at any given moment, transporting energy up from the surface of the sun to its atmosphere.

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