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A day ago an international team of stellar physicists announced that the sun’s surface is covered with thousands of searing hot plasma super tornadoes each of which is the size of a large continent on Earth.  Using a combination of a space telescope and a ground telescope, researchers discovered that each of these plasma vortexes spins at velocities up to 14,500 kilometers (9,000 miles) an hour.

(CREDIT: Wedemeyer-Böhm: Parts of the image produced with VAPOR)

The mystery of why the corona of the sun is 300 times hotter than the star’s surface has long vexed scientists.  The surface of the sun is a balmy 5,526 degrees Celsius (9,980 Fahrenheit), while temperatures in the corona peaks 2 million degrees Celsius (3.5 million Fahrenheit). The discovery of these giant fast-moving storms provides a new mechanism by which heat is transferred through the sun’s atmosphere and ejected into the corona. Energy locked in the powerful magnetic vortexes is effectively self-insulated and does not heat the solar photosphere and chromosphere as much as the corona (where the storms widen and dissipate).

The Sun photographed by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA 304) of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

Sven Wedemeyer-Böhm, a Norwegian scientist working on the team was quick to stress that the tornadoes are likely one of several complicated energy transfer mechanisms by which heat reaches the solar corona. However it seems that there are more than 11,000 of these huge plasma tornadoes on the solar surface at any given time.

Yesterday, after work, as per my usual routine, I took the subway home to Park Slope, Brooklyn. Emerging from the underground train station at Seventh Avenue, I was startled to find the windows were smashed out of “Brooklyn Industries” (a store which purveys $50 tee shirts that say “Brooklyn”) and shattered plate glass had been thrown across the street.  Emergency vehicles were everywhere and the citizenry was in a state of high excitement. Naturally I assumed there had finally been a civil insurrection and my banker neighbors were all dead, but when I looked at the neighborhood more closely and utilized my powers of ratiocination, I realized that rioters would probably not twist the tops off of trees, snap power cables, and knock down chimneys.  Clearly another perpetrator was implicated.

Park Slope neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010 (Mark Lennihan/AP))

In order to get to the bottom of the mysterious events, I interviewed some eyewitnesses who asserted that the sky had turned green, bullwhips of lightening lashed from the heavens, and then a crushing wall of rain and water moved across the land.  The culprit was revealed to be a severe thunder storm, quite possibly a tornado.  Apparently the National Weather Service is spending today reviewing replays to find out whether we can officially call it such or not.  Here’s a movie of the storm on Youtube.

The storm twisted the wild cherry tree in my backyard around by several degrees (!) and tipped over some lawn furniture, but apparently did not do any severe damage to my apartment or garden.  The neighborhood was not so fortunate.  Huge trees (and little ones) were lying on cars everywhere.  The high wind blew down fences, scaffolds, temporary constructions, and edifices that were old or poorly constructed.  Brooklyn is a symphony of chainsaws and hammers right now.

On 3rd Street between 4th and 5th Avenues in Brooklyn (TheSharkDaymond)

 

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