Researchers led by Shandong University of China used satellite data to identify a space tornado, and found it was not a circular pattern from air but from ionized plasma gas.
The mass showered electrons instead of water and lasted about eight hours before collapsing.
Professor Mike Lockwood, a space scientist at the University of Reading, said tornadoes could be a global phenomenon on planets and moons with magnetic fields and plasmas.
“Until now, it has not been confirmed that space plasma hurricanes exist, so proving this with such an eye-catching observation is incredible,” he said.
“Tropical storms are associated with enormous amounts of energy, and these space hurricanes must be created by the unusually large and rapid transfer of solar wind energy and charged particles to the Earth’s upper atmosphere.
“Plasmas and magnetic fields in planets’ atmospheres are present throughout the universe, so the results indicate that space hurricanes should be a widespread phenomenon.”
He found that a space hurricane, which occurred during a period of low geomagnetic activity, shared many features with hurricanes in Earth’s lower atmosphere – a quiet center, spiral arms, and wide-range rotation.
It is expected to lead to space weather effects such as increased satellite clouds, disruptions in high-frequency radio communications, increased errors at cross-horizon radar sites, satellite navigation and communication systems.
The results are published in Nature Communications.