Space Tornado

They can be destructive and deadly, and they’re not just something that happens here on earth! Tornadoes are the most erratic, unpredictable and violent of storms, and now scientists are finding out they happen in the most unusual places!

Physicist Giovanni Fazio, Ph.D., has spotted tornadoes in space. With the help of his infrared camera on board NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers discovered what looked like a tornado in space.

“I was responsible for building one of the cameras on board there that took this picture of the tornado,” Fazio, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., tells Ivanhoe. “We were quite surprised when I saw it. I never saw anything like this before in my life.”

The surprise turned out to be a shock-wave created by a jet of material flowing through a vast cloud of interstellar gas and dust. The jet slammed into neighboring dust clouds at more than 100 miles per second, heating the dust and causing it to glow.

“When stars form, they form from the collapse of a cloud of gas and dust. And in the process of the gas and dust falling in, it doesn’t fall directly in — it sort of spirals in slowly,” Fazio says.

He adds understanding a star’s formation may someday help astronomers understand the formation of our galaxy. “How did we get here, and where are we going? That’s what we are trying to understand.”

So while tornados on earth can be destructive, tornadoes in space could reveal the mysteries of the universe.

Astronomers say they can only speculate about the source of the spiraling jet. One explanation? Magnetic fields throughout the region might have shaped the tornado-like object.


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