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Tornados Threaten U. S., But Are Bigger on Mars and Gigantic on Sun

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The deadly tornados prowling the Midwest and South are one of the planet’s most powerful type of storm. But tornados are far larger on Mars and so gigantic on the Sun that a dozen Earths could stack inside them (video above). Remarkably,  magnetic tornados also soar above the planet Mercury.

The most powerful EF-5 tornados on Earth can produce mile wide 300 mph winds. They normally extend up 1,000 ft. or more and form out of mid level circulations at about 20,000 ft. The super cell mesocyclones that spawn major tornado outbreaks can reach 50,000 ft. in altitude.

About 93 million mi. away on the Sun, colossal tornados are as wide as Africa and reach several hundred thousand miles in height–taller than the 240,000 mile distance from the Earth to the Moon. They have super hot 15,000 deg. F winds rotating at 300,000 mph. In the image below note the scale of Earth inserted for reference next to the solar tornado imaged by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

Solar tornados are far larger than Earth. According to NASA they are taller than the 240,000 mi. distance from the Earth to the Moon, as wide as the African continent and generate 15,000 deg. F winds blowing at 300,000 mph. Photo Credit: NASA\Goddard

Tornados on the Sun are caused when magnetic field lines elevate and begin to rotate the solar plasma that makes up the visible surface of the Sun.

Giant magnetic field line tornados have also been detected rising from the surface of planet Mercury by the Messenger spacecraft during a 2008 flyby prior to going into orbit around the planet.

This diagram was composed from a 2008 Messenger spacecraft flyby of Mercury that revealed magnetic tornados forming in the planets magnetic field. The tornados are corkscrew-shaped bundles of twisted magnetic fields and plasma annotated as "flux transfer events" (twisted lines) rising from a complex representation of the magnetic environment surrounding the planet. Photo Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Mercury’s tornados can not be seen visually, but have been detected by the spacecraft’s instruments as giant rotating lines of magnetism extending hundreds of miles into space.

Moving on to Mars, Martian tornados at up to five mi. tall and several miles wide are much larger than tornados on Earth. The Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity have imaged many small dust devils, but the surviving rover Opportunity has yet to see a really huge one that would qualify as a dust tornado.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, however, has seen some large ones and in one case was able to look directly down into a monster Martian tornado easily visible from Martian orbit (picture below).

Large tornado on Mars is imaged by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter looking almost straight down into vortex. This tornado is about 5 mi. high and several hundred yards wide. Note how its high speed rotation has literally cleared open a circular area of high cloud above the twister 100 million mi. from Earth. Photo Credit: NASA JPL\ University of Arizona

Tornados on Earth also have powerful electrical fields and are always imbedded in violent thunderstorms (see image below)

According to the National Weather Service this picture of a tornado and lightning bolt over Lake Okeechobee, Fla. was taken at about 10 PM on June 15, 1991. The Weather Service says the photograph was taken by Mr. Fred Smith.

But since there are no wet and cloudy storm systems on Mars they appear, quite literally, out of thin air. As giant dust tornadoes travel along the Martian surface they leave distinctive tracks, often massed in areas where they are most common. They leave spectacular evidence where their powerful winds have vacuumed dust off the surface. In the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter image (below) large Martian tornadoes have often tracked across an ancient worn down impact crater.

Dozens of dust devil and larger Martian tornado tracks are shown crossing an ancient impact crater. Photo Credit: NASA JPL/University of Arizona

Meteorologists tend to call them “dust devils”, not tornadoes, because they are not associated with water-laden storm clouds, which do not exist on Mars. This difference in terminology does not diminish the power of large Martian tornados, however.

On both Earth and Mars, dust devils form when the ground heats up during the day, warming the air just above the surface causing it to rise and begin to swirl providing initial energy for rotation.

Three dust devils are actually the same one imaged at 2 sec. intervals by the rover Spirit in 2005. Photo Credit: NASA\JPL

 

 

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