Wow: The eruption of Tonga volcano has reached space, says NASA

Credit image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith
Credit image: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 10 May 2022, at 10:11 am Los Angeles time

The effects of the eruption of the Tonga volcano on January 25, 2022, have reached space, according to NASA scientists.

They analyzed data from the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) to determine hurricane-speed winds and unusual electric currents in the Earth's ionosphere, a few hours after the great eruption that would have affected almost the whole world.

"The volcano created one of the largest disturbances in space we've seen in the modern era," said Brian Harding, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, and the lead author of this new paper discussing the findings. "It is allowing us to test the poorly understood connection between the lower atmosphere and space."

"These results are an exciting look at how events on Earth can affect whether in space, in addition to space weather affecting Earth," said Jim Spann, space weather lead for NASA's Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. "Understanding space weather holistically will ultimately help us mitigate its effects on society."

ICON was launched in 2019 to identify how space weather interacts with the weather on Earth, a very important mission that has given very good results over the last 3 years.

The eruption of the volcano led to the creation of winds in the atmosphere that were moving at immense speeds.

Due to this, the winds were driven upwards passing through all the layers of the atmosphere, until they reached the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and space, the ionosphere.

There, the ICONIC mission measured the highest wind speeds below 120 miles in altitude since the beginning of the mission. According to the mission, the winds reached as high as 450 mph.

In addition, the effects of the strong eruption were felt in terms of electric currents. 

The particles in the ionosphere consistently form an electric current, also called an electrojet.

They usually moved east, but strong winds redirected them for a while to the west, after the equatorial electrojet increased to five times its normal maximum power, according to NASA.

"It's very surprising to see the electrojet be greatly reversed by something that happened on Earth's surface," said Joanne Wu, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-author of the new study. "This is something we've only previously seen with strong geomagnetic storms, which are a form of weather in space caused by particles and radiation from the Sun."

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