Piece of sun breaks off, creates tornado-like swirl, leaving scientists baffled.
Recently, several news outlets claimed that a part of the sun had broken off. Many news outlets and websites from around the world such as The New York Post, Metro UK, UNILADS, Daily Star and Indian news outlets such as Times Now, Mirror Now, Hindustan Times, Daily Hunt etc have reported that the part of the sun broke away.
— Mirror Now (@MirrorNow) February 11, 2023
What’s the truth?
The news outlets picked this up from a tweet made by Dr.Tamitha Skov, a space weather physicist. She posted a tweet on 3rd February 2023 with a video. The tweet described that material from a northern prominence broke away from the main filament and is circulating in a polar vortex in the north pole of the sun.
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
This was probably misunderstood by someone and had reported that a part of the sun had broken away. If it’s not a chunk of the sun, then what did actually break away? To better understand that, we should know what solar prominence is.
NASA describes solar prominence as a large, bright feature extending outward from the Sun’s surface. It is also known as a filament when viewed against the solar disk. The sun’s outer atmosphere is called a corona. These prominences are anchored (attached) to the Sun’s surface and extend outwards into the sun’s outer atmosphere, which forms a ring like pattern or an elliptical pattern.
A prominence forms typically over a day and if it is stable, it can be around for several months creating a loop that stretches hundreds of thousands of miles into space. How and why these prominences are formed is still being researched by scientists.
The Break Away
So, a prominence which erupted in the northern hemisphere of the sun broke away from the main filament (loop) and it was circling around the north pole in a polar vortex. This does not mean the sun broke away.
Did JWST capture these images?
There were some claims also that a video of sun was captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
— RVCJ Media (@RVCJ_FB) February 10, 2023
However, that is not true either, as the JWST is not designed to look at the sun.
The infrared telescope has a 5-layer sunshield which extends to the size of a tennis court to cool down the sensors and mirrors. According to the NASA website, the hot side of the telescope has a temperature of 50 degrees Celsius whereas the cold side is at -236 degree Celsius. Pointing the telescope directly at the sun could potentially fry its sensors.
Dr.Tamitha Skov’s clarification
Tamitha Skov has uploaded a video in her YouTube Channel explaining the polar vortex. In the description of the video, she mentioned the vortex has been cited in many media outlets as a piece of the Sun breaking off but that is all media hype that need not be believed. She also mentioned that “It is all part of the perfectly normal and stunning solar ballet!”
To be short, a huge chunk of the sun or a part of the sun did not break away from the sun. Solar prominence is a regular phenomenon, and a portion of the solar filament (prominence) broke away and circled in the north pole of the sun in a polar vortex.