Despite how prominences and tornadoes appear in images [taken by the AIA instrument on the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)], the magnetic field is not vertical, and the plasma mostly moves horizontally along magnetic field lines. Giant solar tornadoes - formally called tornado prominences - have been observed on the Sun for around a hundred years. They are so called because of their striking shape and apparent resemblance to tornadoes on Earth, but that is where the comparison ends.
A hundred years ago, the pictures appeared to show hot plasma in extreme ultraviolet light rotating to form a giant structure taking the shape of a tornado (as we know them on Earth). Now the tornadoes are being associated with the legs of solar prominences, which are beautiful concentrations of cool plasma in the very hot solar corona that can easily be seen as pink structures during total solar eclipses.
Solar tornadoes normally have no noticeable consequences for us. However, when a tornado prominence erupts, it can cause what's known as space weather, potentially damaging power, satellite and communication networks on Earth.
The study was presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS) in Liverpool this week.
Credit for Featured Image: Solar prominence at 04:58 UTC on April 28, 2018. Credit: NASA/SDO AIA 193