A 621-mile wide swirling mass of plasma was spotted hundreds of miles above the North Pole. After analysis, a team led by Shandong University in China confirmed the existence of space hurricanes after close observations of electrons raining down in Earth's upper atmosphere.
Previous observations have found space hurricanes on Mars, Saturn and Jupiter, similar to those found in the lower atmosphere. However, this was the first sighting of such a storm in Earth's upper atmosphere.
The space hurricane, which occurred during a period of low geomagnetic activity, was spotted on August 20, 2014. It was documented by scientists as a relatively stable northward interplanetary magnetic field condition (IMF). This is the solar magnetic field that is pulled from the solar corona by the solar wind.
After about eight hours, the space hurricane dissipated when the IMF turned southward.
The team confirmed the hurricane's existence after observing a large cyclone-shaped auroral spot high above the Earth. It contained a nearly zero-flow centre and strong circular horizontal plasma flow and shears, the same as found in hurricanes in the lower atmosphere. However, instead of raining water, it rained electrons.
The hurricane, which rotated anti-clockwise, broke down after approximately eight hours when the IMF turned southwards. Scientists added that such a storm will give scientists the ability to better understand space weather effects and warn that such storms could disrupt GPS systems.
The study read, "A hurricane is clearly associated with strong energy and mass transportation. So, a hurricane in Earth's upper atmosphere must be violent. It should efficiently transfer solar wind/magnetosphere energy and momentum into the Earth's ionosphere".
Space scientist at the University of Reading, Professor Mike Lockwood, stated that the hurricane could be a universal phenomenon on planets and moons with magnetic fields and plasma.
"Until now, it was uncertain that space plasma hurricanes even existed, so to prove this with such a striking observation is incredible. Tropical storms are associated with huge amounts of energy, and these space hurricanes must be created by unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles into the Earth's upper atmosphere. Plasma and magnetic fields in the atmosphere of planets exist throughout the universe, so the findings suggest space hurricanes should be a widespread phenomena."