Scientists have logged the first recorded instance of a “space hurricane,” confirming the existence of a phenomenon that could pose a risk to devices in orbit. The journal Nature Communications published the findings of Quin-He Zhang and the team in late February.

The hurricane itself consisted of a storm of plasma swirling hundreds of miles above the North Pole. When the researchers created a 3D model of the event, they found it bore striking similarities to hurricanes occurring down in the atmosphere.

It had arms stretching over 600 miles across and rotated counterclockwise. A central eye was calmer, showing “nearly zero-flow” conditions. It even had its own kind of rain, flooding the area below it with electrons. The hurricane lasted eight hours before dissipating.

The team suggested the storm could be a result of unusually strong solar wind interacting with Earth’s atmosphere. While the phenomenon is still poorly understood, Zhang said it might affect people and machines in orbit.

“The space hurricane will lead to important space weather effects like increased satellite drag, disturbances in high-frequency radio communications and increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation and communication systems,” Zhang told AAAS’ Eureka Alert.

The work also suggested the possibility of studying similar but less extreme orbital weather events to gain an understanding of their larger cousins.

“This study suggests that there are still existing local intense geomagnetic disturbance and energy depositions which is comparable to that during superstorms. This will update our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling process under extremely quiet geomagnetic conditions,” said Zhang.

The inquiry was conducted by a combined team of scientists from China, the U.S., Norway and the U.K. It was led by Shandong University in Jinan, China.

"Until now, it was uncertain that space plasma hurricanes even existed, so to prove this with such a striking observation is incredible," said co-author Mike Lockwood.