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A space hurricane over the Earth’s polar ionosphere

Zhang, Q.-H. ORCID:, Zhang, Y.-L., Wang, C., Oksavik, K. ORCID:, Lyons, L. R., Lockwood, M. ORCID:, Yang, H.-G., Tang, B.-B. ORCID:, Moen, J. I., Xing, Z.-Y., Ma, Y.-Z., Wang, X.-Y., Ning, Y.-F. and Xia, L.-D. (2021) A space hurricane over the Earth’s polar ionosphere. Nature Communications, 12. 1207. ISSN 2041-1723

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-21459-y


In Earth’s low atmosphere, hurricanes are destructive due to their great size, strong spiral winds with shears, and intense rain/precipitation. However, disturbances resembling hurricanes have not been detected in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Here, we report a long-lasting space hurricane in the polar ionosphere and magnetosphere during low solar and otherwise low geomagnetic activity. This hurricane shows strong circular horizontal plasma flow with shears, a nearly zero-flow center, and a coincident cyclone-shaped aurora caused by strong electron precipitation associated with intense upward magnetic field-aligned currents. Near the center, precipitating electrons were substantially accelerated to ~10 keV. The hurricane imparted large energy and momentum deposition into the ionosphere despite otherwise extremely quiet conditions. The observations and simulations reveal that the space hurricane is generated by steady high-latitude lobe magnetic reconnection and current continuity during a several hour period of northward interplanetary magnetic field and very low solar wind density and speed.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:97656
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group


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