SHEFFIELD, England, June 28 (UPI) -- Solar tornadoes may be powering the atmosphere of the sun, warming it to millions of degrees and making it even hotter than the sun's surface, scientists say.
"One of the major problems in modern astrophysics is why the atmosphere of a star, like our own sun, is considerably hotter than its surface," Robertus Erdelyi of the University of Sheffield in Britain said.
"It is understood that the energy originates from below the sun's surface, but how this massive amount of energy travels up to the solar atmosphere surrounding it is a mystery," he said in a Sheffield release.
Scientists have observed solar tornadoes they suggest may carry energy from the energy reservoir below the sun's surface, called the convection zone, to the outer atmosphere in the form of magnetic waves.
They've estimated there are as many as 11,000 of these rotating magnetic structures above the sun's surface at any time.
If the process could be replicated on Earth to energize plasma in a fusion reactor, it could lead to a new source of energy, researchers said.
"If we understand how nature heats up magnetized plasmas, like in the tornadoes observed in the sun, one day we may be able to use this process to develop the necessary technology and build devices on Earth that produce free, clean, green energy," Erdelyi said.