Ten thousand gigantic tornadoes are scouring the surface of the sun. Each of these spinning magnetic storms is the size of Europe, and together they may be pumping enough energy into the solar atmosphere to heat it to millions of degrees – a power that leads one scientist to suggest we could mimic these solar tornadoes on Earth in the quest for nuclear fusion power.
… Crucially, at the top of each tornado more ultra-violet light is given off than elsewhere – a sign that the plasma is being heated at that point. Team member Robert Erdélyi at the University of Sheffield, UK, says that energy is probably channelled in the form of magnetic disturbances called torsional Alfvén waves, which race up the twisted field lines of the tornado to be dissipated as heat in the corona.
… If it works on the sun, why not on Earth? “We could steal this technique from nature,” says Erdélyi. At the ITER project in Cadarache, France, scientists are trying to generate power from nuclear fusion, which requires heating plasma to many millions of degrees. Erdélyi suggests that if we can better understand coronal heating, similar processes could be used to inject heat into a reactor. Then scaled-down solar tornadoes might bring light and heat to our homes.