A satellite captured the moment a chunk of the Sun’s northern pole broke off into a vortex, as scientists struggle to understand what is happening.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory captured amazing footage last week which shows a huge filament of solar plasma rising above the northern pole.
Talk about Polar Vortex! Material from a northern prominence just broke away from the main filament & is now circulating in a massive polar vortex around the north pole of our Star. Implications for understanding the Sun's atmospheric dynamics above 55° here cannot be overstated! pic.twitter.com/1SKhunaXvP
— Dr. Tamitha Skov (@TamithaSkov) February 2, 2023
“Talk about Polar Vortex! Material from a northern prominence just broke away from the main filament & is now circulating in a massive polar vortex around the north pole of our Star,” writes Dr. Tamitha Skov, a space weather physicist.
“Implications for understanding the Sun’s atmospheric dynamics above 55° here cannot be overstated!”
Solar physicist and deputy director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder Colorado, Scott McIntosh tells Space.com that he has never seen a vortex like it.
“Something odd is happening at the sun’s 55-degree latitudes with clockwork regularity once every solar cycle, the 11-year period characterized by an ebb and flow in the generation of sunspots and eruptions,” he says.
“It’s very curious. There is a big ‘why’ question around it. Why does it only move toward the pole one time and then disappears and then comes back, magically, three or four years later in exactly the same region?”
Filaments tearing away from the Sun is nothing new with scientists regularly observing this type of solar activity, but this is the first time that such a large polar whirlwind has been noticed.
As noted by Space.com, the sun’s polar regions play a key role in generating the star’s magnetic field which drives its 11-year cycle of activity. But scientists can’t observe the polar region directly.
“We can only observe the sun from the ecliptic plane,” McIntosh adds.
The European Space Agency has launched its solar orbiter which is imaging the Sun from within the orbit of Mercury which might shed more light on what is happening in the Sun’s northern polar region.