The GOES-17 satellite captured images of an umbrella cloud generated by the underwater eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano on January 15, 2022. Crescent-shaped bow shock waves and numerous lighting strikes are also visible. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens using GOES imagery courtesy of NOAA and NESDIS
When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai volcano erupted on January 15, 2022, it sent atmospheric shock waves, sonic booms, and tsunami waves around the world. Now, scientists are finding the volcano’s effects also reached space.
Analyzing data from NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, mission and ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Swarm satellites, scientists found that in the hours after the eruption, hurricane-speed winds and unusual electric currents formed in the ionosphere – Earth’s electrified upper atmospheric layer at the edge of space.
“The volcano created one of the largest disturbances in space we’ve seen in the modern era,” said Brian Harding, a physicist at
The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption on January 15, 2022, caused many effects, some illustrated here, that were felt around the world and even into space. Some of those effects, like extreme winds and unusual electric currents were picked up by NASA’s ICON mission and ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Swarm. Image not to scale. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith
ICON launched in 2019 to identify how Earth’s weather interacts with weather from space – a relatively new idea supplanting previous assumptions that only forces from the Sun and space could create weather at the edge of the ionosphere. In January 2022, as the spacecraft passed over South America, it observed one such earthly disturbance in the ionosphere triggered by the South Pacific volcano.
“These results are an exciting look at how events on Earth can affect weather in space, in addition to space weather affecting Earth,” said Jim Spann, space weather lead for
Illustration of ICON spacecraft. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith
In the ionosphere, the extreme winds also affected electric currents. Particles in the ionosphere regularly form an…