Part of the Sun breaks free and forms a strange vortex, baffling scientists

Something very strange is going on with the Sun, and while it’s a phenomenon that’s baffling scientists, it also has them very excited.


Space weather forecaster Tamitha Skov shared a video sequence to Twitter late last week that shows a huge filament of solar plasma breaking free from the Sun’s surface.


“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,” she tweeted of the footage, taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.


“Implications for understanding the sun’s atmospheric dynamics above 55° here cannot be overstated!”


According to, it’s the first time such a vortex has been observed. While scientists have previously observed filaments break free from the Sun, it’s the first time they’ve seen it form a polar whirlwind.


Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist and deputy director at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told that while he’s never witnessed a vortex like this, he does know that something strange tends to happen at the Sun’s 55 degree latitude once every solar cycle, or 11 years.


This most recent prominence, explains McIntosh, is like a “hedgerow in the solar plasma” which appears at exactly the same spot around the sun’s polar crown every 11 years. Over this period, there’s a fluctuation in the ejection of solar material, sunspots, solar radiation and solar flares.


“Once every solar cycle, it forms at the 55 degree latitude and it starts to march up to the solar poles,” McIntosh told “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?”


While there’s confusion around the cause of the phenomenon, McInstosh said it could be related to the reversal of the sun’s magnetic field that happens each solar cycle. It’s challenging to observe that area of the star, as the Sun can only be observed from the ecliptic plane — the plane in which planets orbit.


According to NASA, a solar prominence is a large, bright feature extending outward from the Sun’s surface.


While scientists are still researching how prominences are formed, they know that the red, glowing material is plasma, a hot gas comprised of hydrogen and helium. They erupt when their anchoring structure becomes unstable and bursts outward.


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