On the physical nature of the so-called prominence tornadoes

Stanislav Gunár*, Nicolas Labrosse, Manuel Luna, Brigitte Schmieder, Petr Heinzel, Therese A. Kucera, Peter J. Levens, Arturo López Ariste, Duncan H. Mackay, Maciej Zapiór

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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The term ‘tornado’ has been used in recent years to describe several solar phenomena, from large-scale eruptive prominences to small-scale photospheric vortices. It has also been applied to the generally stable quiescent prominences, sparking a renewed interest in what historically was called ‘prominence tornadoes’. This paper carries out an in-depth review of the physical nature of ‘prominence tornadoes’, where their name subconsciously makes us think of violent rotational dynamics. However, after careful consideration and analysis of the published observational data and theoretical models, we conclude that ‘prominence tornadoes’ do not differ in any substantial way from other stable solar prominences. There is simply no unequivocal observational evidence of sustained and coherent rotational movements in quiescent prominences that would justify a distinct category of prominences sharing the name with the well-known atmospheric phenomenon. The visual impression of the column-like silhouettes, the perceived helical motions, or the suggestive Doppler-shift patterns all have a simpler, more likely explanation. They are a consequence of projection effects combined with the presence of oscillations and/or counter-streaming flows. ‘Prominence tornadoes’ are thus just manifestations of the complex nature of solar prominences when observed in specific projections. These coincidental viewing angles, together with the presence of fine-structure dynamics and simple yet profoundly distorting projection effects, may sometimes play havoc with our intuitive understanding of perceived shapes and motions, leading to the incorrect analogy with atmospheric tornadoes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number33
Number of pages40
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Issue number4
Early online date24 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • Observational diagnostics
  • Spectroscopy
  • Solar prominences
  • Modelling


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