This enormous tornado erupting from the surface of the sun is big enough to swallow the Earth. In fact, it could swallow five Earths.
Discovered using NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory satellite, this colossal twisting mass is made up of superheated gas at a temperature of between 90,000 and 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit.
Over the course of three hours, this behemoth reached up from the sun’s surface to a height of 125,000 miles, or roughly half the distance between the Earth and the moon. The hot gases were whipped up to nearly 186,000 miles per hour. In comparison, the wind speed of terrestrial tornadoes generally reaches a paltry 100 miles per hour.
Scientists have previously seen smaller solar tornadoes with other sun-observing satellites but this one — spotted in September 2011 — is thought to be the first one ever filmed. Since then, researchers have seen at least one more solar tornado, an Earth-sized twister.
These tornadoes often precede events known as coronal mass ejections — huge eruptions of charged particles that blast out of the sun’s surface with tremendous energy. Such flare-ups are thought to be related to interactions among the sun’s magnetic field lines, whose corkscrewing movements also shape the solar tornado.