Researchers at IRF in Uppsala discover whirlpools in space

Researchers at IRF in Uppsala discover whirlpools in space

Researchers at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF) in Uppsala present results in this week's issue of the important journal Nature that show that large whirlpools exist in space.

Anyone who has seen water streaming past a bridge piling or behind a boat has probably noted that larger and smaller whirlpools form and disappear. Physicists call this turbulent flow, and whirlpools are an inherent part of it. There has long been speculation as to whether similar phenomena might exist in the charged gas in space called plasma, but it is only now that researchers from IRF in Uppsala (working in collaboration with researchers in Orléans, France, and Bochum, Germany) have been able to show that they actually exist and are relatively common in space plasma. With the help of the four European Cluster satellites which fly in formation around the Earth, one can now measure in several places in space simultaneously, and thus obtain information about the size, speed and strength of the whirlpools.

The whirlpools that were measured were c. 150 km in diameter and moved with a speed of about 10 km/sec, and thus transport mass and energy from one place to another in a way that it quite unusual in plasma physics.

"That the whirlpools really exist has important ramifications not just for models of our closest regions in space," says PhD studnent David Sundkvist, "but also for astrophysics and studies of fusion energy. Transport of energy and mass thanks to whirlpools in fusion plasma is on of the greatest obstacles to achieving stable fusion."

The article:

"In situ multi-satellite detection of coherent vortices as a manifestation of Alfvénic turbulence" will be published in Nature on Thursday (11 August 2005). As well as first author David Sundkvist, contributions to the article were also made by Andris Vaivads, Mats André and Stephan Buchert from IRF in Uppsala.

For more information contact:

David Sundkvist, PhD student, IRF Uppsala, tel. +46-18-471 5922, +46-70-204 1306,

Rick McGregor, Information Officer, IRF, tel. +46-980-79178, +46-70-276 6020,

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Created 2005-08-10 17:42:00 by Rick McGregor
Last changed 2016-10-17 16:41:21 by Rick McGregor

The Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF) is a governmental research institute which conducts research and postgraduate education in atmospheric physics, space physics and space technology. Measurements are made in the atmosphere, ionosphere, magnetosphere and around other planets with the help of ground-based equipment (including radar), stratospheric balloons and satellites. IRF was established (as Kiruna Geophysical Observatory) in 1957 and its first satellite instrument was launched in 1968. The head office is in Kiruna (geographic coordinates 67.84° N, 20.41° E) and IRF also has offices in Umeĺ, Uppsala and Lund.