Tag Archives: aurora borealis

Do the northern lights make sounds? Scientist finds key answers

Auroras are a remarkable phenomenon, a dazzling light show in beautiful green and crimson near Earth’s poles where the magnetic field is strongest. We mostly think of them as something just visual, but they also seem to have an auditory component. This has intrigued researchers for centuries, but now we could be closer to better understand what’s actually going on.

Image credit: Flickr / Mark Wilson.

Fiona Amery, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, decided to take a look at historic reports of auroral sound, hoping to better understand this curious phenomenon and establish whether reported sounds were real or they were illusory/imaginary. And she seems to have found some very interesting answers. 

“It’s a question that has puzzled observers for centuries: do the fantastic green and crimson light displays of the aurora borealis produce any discernible sound,” Amery, who is soon to travel to Finland to look for auroras, wrote in a blog post at The Conversation. “Reports of the aurora making a noise, however, are rare – and were historically dismissed by scientists.”

The sounds of the auroras 

People have described the sound of the northern lights as a quiet and almost imperceptible crackling, whooshing or whizzing noise. Amery found personal testimonies from the early 1930s published in a Shetland Islands newspaper, with people comparing the sound to “rustling silk” or “two planks meeting flat ways”.

While best seen at night, auroras are generated thanks to the Sun. They are the result of charged particles reaching our planet. The particles are channeled to the poles by Earth’s magnetic field and then interact with particles in the atmosphere. This is always happening, but sometimes the Sun sends more energetic particles, producing striking auroras.

Scientists carried out expeditions to try to know more about the auroral sounds during the first International Polar Year (IPY) in 1882 and 1883. Not that much was known then regarding auroras and even less about their sounds. Research continued on the second IPY in 1922-33, leaving many researchers thinking that auroras were too far to hear any noises. 

Oliver Lodge, a British physicist, argued that the auroral sound was likely a psychological phenomenon caused by the aurora’s appearance, just like meteors conjure an illusory sound in the brain, Amery said. George Clark Simpson, a meteorologist, wrote that low auroras were an “optical illusion” caused by the interference of low clouds. 

But not everyone was convinced by these theories, with a few still arguing that auroras did make noises. For example, the Canadian astronomer Clarence Chart argued that the motion of the aurora changes Earth’s magnetic field, creating changes in the electrification of the atmosphere. This then produces a crackling sound close to Earth’s surface. 

In 2012, Unto Laine, an acoustician from Finland, published a recording of auroral homes that he recorded from his home town. Then, in 2016, he explained that the sounds happen because of an inversion of cold air in the atmosphere that can form below an aurora. In fact, meteorological reports showed that such an inversion happened when he made the recordings. 

More recently, the sound of the aurora has been explored for its aesthetic value. A composer, Ēriks Ešenvalds, used journal extracts from explorers who claimed to have heard the northern lights to create his composition “Northern Lights.” And the BBC played in 2020 a very low-frequency radio recording of an aurora onto the audible spectrum. 

“There is no doubt that the so-called auroral sounds have been recorded now many times and that they are made by electric discharging processes in the temperature inversion layer,” Laine told NBC News. “The solar wind variations are behind both phenomena, visual and auditory.”

The paper was published in the journal Royal Society

Astronaut captures stunning photos of an aurora above Earth

While it might not be as well-known as the northern lights (or Aurora Borealis), the Aurora Australis can be just as spectacular, especially if you’re looking at it from space. Thomas Pesquet, a photographer and an astronaut from the European Space Agency shared an impressive photo of the southern lights taken about 250 miles (402km) above Earth.

Credit image: Thomas Pesquet / Flickr.

The photo, which Pesquet published on his Flickr account and on other social media networks, is among the best images of the aurora ever captured from the International Space Station (ISS), where he’s based. It shows green ribbons across the Earth going high up in the atmosphere and then fading away into spikes of red light in the distance.

“I don’t know why we saw so many in the span of a few days, when I barely saw one during my entire first mission, but these last ones came with something extra,” Pesquet wrote on Facebook. “As the Moon was high and bright, it lit up the clouds from above, which created a distinct atmosphere and almost turned the aurora blue.”

Pesquet was selected by ESA as a candidate in 2009 and successfully completed his basic training in 2010. He was sent to space first in 2016 for six months and then again in April on board of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, both times staying at the ISS. He frequently posts photos and videos on social media, including him running at the ISS.

Anyone going to space is very likely to see the northern or southern lights just like Pesquet. In fact, the recent SpaceX first tourist crew saw just that while orbiting Earth earlier this month. The mission’s commander, Jared Isaacman, replied to Pesquet’s photo on Twitter, saying he and his crew had seen the aurora but “not like that.”

The impressive auroras

While best seen at night, auroras are actually caused by the Sun. They are the result of charged particles reaching our planet. The particles are channeled to the poles by Earth’s magnetic field and then interact with particles in the atmosphere. This is always happening, but sometimes the Sun sends bigger particles, producing striking auroras. 

The Aurora Australis, the one seen by Pesquet from space, is the southern hemisphere counterpart to the more famous Aurora Borealis. It takes shape of a curtain of light, or a sheet, or a diffuse glow, mostly red and green. It’s strongest on the south magnetic pole, making Antarctica the best place to see them happening, especially at night. 

When the solar cycle is near its maximum, the Aurora Australis can be visible in New Zealand (especially the South Island), southern Australia (especially Tasmania), southern Chile and Argentina and sometimes in South Africa too. They are typically 100 to 300 kilometers high, but sometimes can reach up to 500 kilometers high. 

So, if going to space as a tourist isn’t something for you, with tickets still a bit steep and only for billionaires, better think of making a visit to some of the southern or northern countries to check the aurora. Either if it’s the australis or the borealis, they are both equally impressive and worth planning a trip to check them out. 

Physicists find definite proof of how auroras are born

Auroras are produced by electrons accelerated by powerful electromagnetic waves called Alfven waves. Credit: Austin Montelius, University of Iowa.

Those closer to the North or South poles are privileged to witness some of nature’s most dazzling ‘fireworks’. These spectacular light shows, known as the aurora borealis in the northern hemisphere and aurora australis in the southern hemisphere, are produced when Earth’s sheltering magnetic field interacts with certain kinds of solar storms. Now, scientists at the University of Iowa have reported exactly how auroras are created, performing experiments whose results perfectly match the theory.

Electrons ‘surfing’ on waves of electric fields

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the physicists explain that the brilliant auroras are generated by powerful electromagnetic waves known as Alfven waves. These waves accelerate a small population of electrons towards Earth’s magnetic field, similar to how a surfer catches a wave and is continually accelerated as the surfer moves along with the wave.

But it’s not like scientists have been in the dark so far. For decades, scientists have designed models that describe the physical mechanisms by which energized particles emanating from the sun interact with Earth’s magnetic field and collide with oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the upper molecules. These excited molecules respond by emitting light in various colorful hues, lighting the night’s sky.

Yet although these models have been validated by some observations, such as measurements of Alfven waves taken by spacecraft that traveled above auroras, some limitations inherent to these spacecraft and rocket measurements had prevented a definite confirmation of the theory.

These challenges were overcome by the physicists at the University of Iowa through a series of experiments conducted at the Large Plasma Device lab located at UCLA’s Basic Plasma Science Facility.

The setup was rather challenging, requiring precise measurement of a very small population of electrons, numbering less than one in a thousand of the electrons in the plasma itself, traveling down the chamber of the Large Plasma Device at nearly the same speed as the Alfven waves.

Using a combination of numerical simulations and mathematical modeling on the results of the experiments, the researchers confirmed the theory that electrons “surf” on the wave of an electric field. This phenomenon is formally known as Landau damping, after Russian physicist Lev Landau who first proposed it in 1946.

“The idea that these waves can energize the electrons that create the aurora goes back more than four decades, but this is the first time we’ve been able to confirm definitively that it works,” says Craig Kletzing, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Iowa and a study co-author. “These experiments let us make the key measurements that show that the space measurements and theory do, indeed, explain a major way in which the aurora are created.”

Auroras have always fascinated people with their beauty. But the science behind them is certainly no less intriguing. Who knows what secrets they might have to share in the future. 

ISS Northern Lights.

This video ISS astronauts shot of the norther lights is just the thing to brighten up your day

Life can be stressful, busy, and nowadays way too hot. But don’t all that get you down and make you forget that life can also be tremendously beautiful. And if you already did, don’t worry — this video of the aurora borealis shot by astronauts from the ISS will help you remember.

ISS Northern Lights.

Image via Max Pixel.

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are a dazzling light show that charged particles hitting the Earth’s magnetic field sometimes put on. Conditions have to be just right: you need a strong enough gust of solar wind slamming into the magnetosphere to pass their energy to atmospheric gases (mostly nitrogen and oxygen), ionizing them into these intricately shaped rivers of light.

Breathtaking on the ground, the northern lights are simply amazing when seen from outside the bounds of our planet. On June 25, members of ISS’ Expedition 52 had a chance to see the aurora borealis from up high, while zipping past at 17,150 mph.

Luckily for us land-locked mortals, they also had their cameras ready. So sit back, pop your earphones, take a break from worrying about that deadline and enjoy the light show for a few relaxing minutes — we’ve all earned it on a Wednesday afternoon.


This is an artist interpretation of what aurorae may look like close to magnetic anomalies on Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and CSW/DB

On Mars, auroras are blue and visible to the naked eye. Here’s a simulation

Mars has auroras too, and in addition to the red and green Northern Lights here on Earth, they also come in blue. According to NASA, these should be visible to the naked eye for a Martian astronaut if he were to look to the sky from one of the two poles.

This is an artist interpretation of what aurorae may look like close to magnetic anomalies on Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and CSW/DB

This is an artist interpretation of what aurorae may look like close to magnetic anomalies on Mars.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and CSW/DB

Auroras are nature’s own dynamic light show. These are created by charged particles from the Sun travelling along the Earth’s magnetic field lines and exciting our atmosphere. In the North these displays are called  aurora borealis (or the northern lights), named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas, by Galileo in 1619. The physical interaction that produces the lights was first demonstrated by Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland almost a century ago when he produced his own auraras. In his world famous experiment, he demonstrated how the lights form around magnetic spheres inside a small vacuum chamber. A modern day version of this experiment is called the  Planeterrella, whose inner workings are explained in this great video produced by University of Leicester.

Using the same polar light simulator, researchers at NASA produced the Northern Lights equivalent in a Mars environment. First, they changed the magnets to be more akin to the Martian planet. While Planeterrella uses a vacuum pump to simulate the thin atmosphere where the charged particles interact with the magnetic field lines, it does not pump out all of the air, leaving a fraction behind. In this case, more CO2 was pumped to represent the Martian atmosphere. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Mars doesn’t have a magnetic field! Well, that’s not entirely true. According to NASA, there are still “local spots of increased magnetic fields, called crustal magnetic anomalies, [..] concentrated in the southern hemisphere, where aurorae are predicted to occur.”

The Planeterella sphere simulates a magnetized planet with an atmosphere of CO2 and bombarded by the solar wind. Blue aurorae develop according to its magnetic field configuration. Credits: D. Bernard/IPAG — CNRS

The Planeterella sphere simulates a magnetized planet with an atmosphere of CO2 and bombarded by the solar wind. Blue aurorae develop according to its magnetic field configuration.
Credits: D. Bernard/IPAG — CNRS

When the Planeterrella was turned on under this setup, the so-called Martian Auroras (excitation of atomic oxygen) were mostly blue, but also green and red (excitation of atomic oxygen).

Scientists first suspected auroras might appear in the Martain sky based on date from the SPICAM imaging instrument on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express. Later on, in April, the Maven mission confirmed this hypothesis when the probe spotted an aurora  at low altitudes in the northern hemisphere, even though these should be most prominent in the southern hemisphere.

ISS astronauts capture spectacular aurora

Astronauts onboard the International Space Station were given a treat – they witnessed one of the most spectacular natural phenomenon on Earth, from space. From onboard the station, Terry Virts also filmed it and took some pictures, so we can all enjoy.


We’ve been recently spoiled by the Tweets of ISS astronauts – Samantha Cristoforetti tweeted pictures of coffee drinking in space for the first time, as well as some amazing shots of the Earth taken from above, while Virts posted some amazing shots of India and the Gange. But this one definitely takes the crown.

“Flying away from one of the most incredible auroras I’ve seen,” said Virts, “just west of Australia.” In addition to capturing the photo you’re about to see full size, Virts also captured a Vine, which you can see below.

Unfortunately though, it seems like the best of it wasn’t actually caught on camera.

“I wish I’d been two minutes quicker with the camera. We were right above this and surrounded by green! #spa… https://t.co/vmRapt3f9B,” he tweeted afterwards.

The aurora borealis is caused by cosmic rays, solar wind and magnetospheric plasma interacting with the upper atmosphere. Basically, charged electrons and protons enter the atmosphere from above, they cause ionization, and excite atmospheric constituents, making them release light. While on Earth the aurora borealis can be seen mostly in high latitudes, seeing it from out space is a very different experience.

NASA launches space probe into Aurora Borealis

A suborbital rocket carrying six research payloads was successfully launched into the Aurora Borealis. The probe will allow scientists to better understand the energy of the aurora and how this affects the Earth and satellites.

Image via NASA.

NASA reports the launch of the Oriole IV sounding rocket at 5:41 a.m. EST on Wednesday; everything went smoothly, without any problems. It’s not the first time a probe has been fired at the northern lights, but this launch is particularly notable due to the scientific load implemented by NASA and Utah State University.

“The successful launch of the Auroral Spatial Structures Probe will enable scientists and satellite operators to better understand the energy processes during auroral activity in the thermosphere and its effects on satellites as they orbit Earth,” said Professor Charles Swenson, director for the Center for Space Engineering at Utah State and the principal investigator for the ASSP mission. “Solar winds produce electric currents in the upper atmosphere where auroral activity occurs, and those currents produce heat that can expand the thermosphere which increases the drag on satellites significantly.”

Auroras are caused by charged particles, mainly electrons and protons, entering the atmosphere and causing ionisation and excitation of atmospheric constituents; this in turn causes optical emissions – the lovely colors we see on the sky. They are generally visible in the auroral zone, 3° to 6° wide in latitude and between 10° and 20° from the geomagnetic poles at all local times (or longitudes). In the northern hemisphere, they are generally called Aurora Borealis, while the southern counterpart is called Aurora Australis.

Different types of aurora. Image via Wikipedia.

This mission’s main aim is to see how the aurora affects the upper atmosphere in terms of energy, allowing future satellite operations to better plan and forecast satellite trajectories.

“The payload deployed all six sub-payloads in formation as planned and all appeared to function as planned,” said John Hickman, operations manager of the NASA sounding rocket program office at the Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia. “Quite an amazing feat to maneuver and align the main payload, maintain the proper attitude while deploying all six 7.3-pound sub payloads at about 40 meters per second.”

Study shows auroras also occur outside our solar system

Researchers from Leicester University have shown that auroras (similar to Earth’s aurora borealis) occur on other bodies outside our solar system.

Aurora borealis

Northern Lights

Aurora borealis is a natural light display occuring in high latitude areas (both north and south), caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere. Here’s what happens: emissions of photons in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, above 80 km (50 mi), from ionized nitrogen atoms regaining an electron; oxygen and nitrogen atoms return from an excited state to ground state. Then, the solar wind kicks in and collides with them, with the particles being funneled down and accelerated along the Earth’s magnetic field lines, creating the dazzling light shows we see from below.

In our solar system, this phenomena has been observed on several planets, most notably on Jupiter, where they are brightest – about 100 times brighter than those on Earth. However, no auroras have been observed beyond Neptune.

Artistic representation of an aurora on Jupiter

Artistic representation of an aurora on Jupiter

Outside the solar system

A new study conducted by University of Leicester lecturer Dr Jonathan Nichols concluded that phenomena extremely similar to Jupiter auroras could be responsible for radio emissions detected from a number of objects outside our solar system. What’s interesting is that these emissions are powerful enough to be detected across interstellar distances, and could potentially be a great tool to observe new objects outside our solar system.

It was indeed believed that auroras occur practically everywhere in the Universe, but so far, this study published in the Astrophysical Journal is the first to actually show that it happens outside our solar system. The conclusion is that radio emissions from a number of ultracool dwarfs may also be caused by auroras, much stronger than even those on Jupiter. Dr Nichols, a Lecturer and Research Fellow in the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, explained:

“We have recently shown that beefed-up versions of the auroral processes on Jupiter are able to account for the radio emissions observed from certain “ultracool dwarfs” – bodies which comprise the very lowest mass stars – and “brown dwarfs” – ‘failed stars’ which lie in between planets and stars in terms of mass. “These results strongly suggest that auroras do occur on bodies outside our solar system, and the auroral radio emissions are powerful enough – one hundred thousand times brighter than Jupiter’s – to be detectable across interstellar distances.”

Studies of these auroras could provide valuable information about the length of the planet’s day, the strength of its magnetic field, how the planet interacts with its parent star and even whether it has any moons.

Via Leicester University and Wikipedia. Scientific source here.

Sun produces humongous, beautiful solar storm [pics & video]

NASA released footage of an absolutely remarkable phenomena: the ejection of a massive solar filament, a type of coronal ejection, captured in all its splendor.

According to the space agency, the filament has been hovering in the Sun’s atmosphere since August, and it was ejected on the 31st of August. The solar eruption was shaped somewhat like a light bulb, which made NASA scientists dub it the ‘Eureka moment’. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft, which captured the footage, is a joint effort from NASA and ESA, the European Space Agency.

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are massive clouds of charged particles and plasma, and it reached about half million miles into outer space. Although the massive ejection wasn’t directed directly at Earth, it did interact with our magnetosphere, causing some spectacular auroras; the radiation didn’t cause any real problems on our planet, and the lights were also visible in North America.

Northern Lights as seen from the countryside of rural Iowa in the wee hours of the morning, as captured by CNN ireport correspondent moonpeep.

Aurora Borealis puts on dazzling light show in northern hemisphere

The powerful X-class solar flare we’ve mentioned earlier in a blog post here on ZME Science finally reached Earth’s magnetic field on Saturday, three days after it spurred from the sun. No significant damage was reported, however the resulting geomagnetic storm put out a dazzling display for those lucky enough to find themselves in the northern hemisphere of the world at the time.

Photo by Image Editor.

Photo by Image Editor.

Thus, Northern lights have been sighted and captured on film by enthusiasts, keen on sharing the experience with those less fortunate, from as far as US northern states or northern Scotland. Below are a few such dazzling shots.

solar flare

Solar flare heading our way – to hit the Earth on Saturday

solar flare The sun recently shout out an M3.2-class solar flare in our direction, which scientists expect to hit the Earth this Saturday. The coronal mass ejection however is too weak to cause any havoc like doomsday fanatics might hope, just an incredible “fireworks” display as the charged particles hit the Earth’s magnetic field resulting in spectacular aurora borealis at the poles. Your toaster is safe, do no threat.

All the same, people in charge of power grids all over the world will be studying the event. In 2013 the sun will approach the end of its eleven year cycle, which is always followed by X-class solar flares, which might cause communication disruptions as they hit vulnerable satellites.

If you’re a northern resident and happen to catch a few great shots this Saturday, don’t hesitate to send some gems our way.

Stunning Northern Lights ... or more like North-ish Lights in Marquette, Michigan Northern Lights. (c) Shawn Malone

Spectacular Aurora Borealis light show in North America [PHOTOS]

Stunning Northern Lights ... or more like North-ish Lights in Marquette, Michigan Northern Lights. (c) Shawn Malone

Stunning Northern Lights … or more like North-ish Lights in Marquette, Michigan Northern Lights. (c) Shawn Malone

The northern hemisphere is accustomed enough to the dazzling Aurora Borealis phenomena, an event which occurs when charged particles collide with atoms from the extreme latitude atmosphere. However, yesterday almost the whole North American continent was bewildered by an incredible spectacle of lights, as Aurora Borealis  apparitions were reported as far south as Kansas, Arkansas or New Mexico.

Cross Plains, Wisconsin Northern Lights. (c) Randy Halverson

Cross Plains, Wisconsin Northern Lights. (c) Randy Halverson

This extremely rare event occured as a result of a freakish giant solar flare, which errupted from the sun yesterday, causing the fantastic display to stretch much farther than usual.  The mass of charged particles compressed Earth’s magnetic field and sparked a  geomagnetic storm, something scientists still don’t know too many things about.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Northern Lights. (c) Ray Mckenzie

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Northern Lights. (c) Ray Mckenzie

The vivid light show is set when the charges hit the atoms in the atmosphere. Collisions with oxygen produce red and green auroras, while nitrogen produces the pink and purple colors.

Kvaløya, Norway Northern Lights. (c) Fredrik Broms

Kvaløya, Norway Northern Lights. (c) Fredrik Broms

One of the best footage from yesterday night’s Northern Lights came from an unsuspecting location, Arkansas. Amateur photographer Brian Emfinger was one of the stargazers who captured the rare occurrence, who also compiled a time lapse from his view.

Ozark, Arkansas Nothern Lights. (c) Brian Emfinger

Ozark, Arkansas Nothern Lights. (c) Brian Emfinger

Ozark, Arkansas Nothern Lights. (c) Brian Emfinger

Ozark, Arkansas Nothern Lights. (c) Brian Emfinger

The time lapse video can be seen right below.

via | source

Aurora Borealis

Beautiful exoplanet aurorae 1000 times brighter than on Earth

Aurora Borealis

There are few more dazzling sights in the world than that of the great Norther Lights, and in a exercise of brilliant imagination scientists have depicted how an aurorae would look like on huge hot planets.

Scientists ran computer models of so-called “hot-Jupiters” placed in close proximity to a sun (a few millions miles away, instead of the safe-base 90 million miles distance Earth has behind our sun), which, coupled with a huge magnetic field due to its mass, rendered an incredible aurorae 100 to 1000 times more luminescent than the ones found on Earth.

“I’d love to get a reservation on a tour to see these aurorae!” says Ofer Cohen, a SHINE-NSF postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

The Northern and, respectively, Southern Lights emerge when energetic particles from sun flares slam into our planet’s magnetosphere, which lead to protons being injected into the magnetic field. These get funneled towards the poles, and that’s how the light show gets eventually staged. For a more vivid and detailed explanation on how aurora borealis are formed check out the previous video-post I’ve written.

On a close proximity to a sun exoplanet subjected to a coronal mass ejection (CME), things would be a lot different though. Besides the huge energy levels compared to those on Earth’s aurorae, an exoplanet would get rapidly engulfed, resulting an eruption that will light up equatorial regions, rippling from the north to south poles over six hours, eventually fading as the geomagnetic storm energy is dissipated.

“The impact to the exoplanet would be completely different than what we see in our solar system, and much more violent,” says co-author Vinay Kashyap of CfA.

Check out this animation of a stunning aurorae ripple around a “hot Jupiter” below.

CfA press release

Aurora Borealis

The beautiful Aurora Borealis formation explained in 5 minutes [VIDEO]

Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis, a rare sight as it is, can be considered nature’s most dazzling fireworks display. What it actually means or describe, where it comes from, how is it formed, are maybe just a few questions you might have posed yourself after looking at some beautiful Northern Lights photos. The short 5 minute video below answers in a perfectly plain manner to all these questions and more, perfectly illustrating the whole phenomena in layman’s terms.

San Francisco to Paris in 2 minutes [VIDEO]

Here’s another amazing time lapse video which is certain to enchant your senses and entertain equally enough, in which the Beep Show has documented its San Francisco to Paris flight by shooting a photo every 2 miles (clicky clicky every 15 seconds?). The photos were then put together masterfully, resulting in a lovely time lapse view over the American continent, the Pacific ocean and even … wait for it… Aurora Borealis! Yeah, now you gotta check this thing out.

All take-off and landing images are computer model renderings since the FAA prohibits the use of cameras at the beginning and end of flights

SF to Paris in Two Minutes from Beep Show on Vimeo.

Solar flare causing some major trouble

As we were telling you recently, the biggest solar flare in the last 4 years is upon us, and while this doesn’t pose any direct danger for us, but the flare is making an impact throughout the world. Radio communications were disrupted, especially in China, but concern was generated everywhere throughout the world.

However, experts say the Sun has just given us a hint of what it can really do, and things could have been much worse; a truly massive storm could wreak havok on a global scale. Speaking of massive storms, the sun has been pretty quiet during this cycle – but that doesn’t necessarily mean a big one is coming just yet. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not coming, either.

“Even if this is a really lackluster solar cycle — as it looks like it’s shaping up to be — that doesn’t mean you can’t have a real bell-ringing event,” said Joe Gurman of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, project scientist for the agency’s sun-studying STEREO spacecraft.

Solar flare radiation expected to hit today – expect a Northern Lights spectacle

The Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft captures an image of solar spot in the centre of the sun from which the largest solar flare in four years erupted on Monday. (NASA / Solar Dynamics Observatory / February 15, 2011)

On Monday the sun fired up an X class solar flare, the most powerful of its kind, the effects of which are expected to be felt by us today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday), and are expected to last somewhere between 24 and 48 hours. This may lead to disruptions in radio communications, interfere with satellites and affect power grids.

This is the sun’s strongest magnetic eruption since 2006 – an X class solar flare usually occurs when magnetic field lines on the sun’s surface in effect get short-circuited, releasing large amounts of energy into space. In the first phase of the eruption, X radiation traveling at the speed of light reached Earth in 8 minutes, which triggered a geomagnetic storm in our planet’s magnetic field that interrupted radio communications in China. Now, the most damaging effects of the flare will occur when streams of protons and electrons, the so-called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, reach Earth the 93 million miles separating the two bodies being expected to be traveled by mid-day Thursday.

NOAA issues alerts to any industries that could be affected.

“These alerts are sent out to electrical power grid companies, airlines, GPS, military, ocean shipping routes, just to name a few industries that may be affected by the impacts of a solar flare and associated coronal mass ejection (CME) like the one we just had,” Chamberlin told SPACE.com.

Don’t expect havoc or anything calamitous – it’s nothing to be alarmed about. At least, it won’t measure up to past solar flares, like the one in 1972 when a solar flare shut down telephone lines in the state of Illinois or in 1989 when another solar flare knocked out power for 6 million people in the Canadian province of Quebec.

Instead, I’d suggest you (northern) folks just sit back and enjoy the light show, since CMEs applify the visuals for the famous Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) phenomena, making them vivider and even visible in the northern part of the US. Like we reported earlier, this is the perfect time to dust off your cameras and start shooting!

“Further northern lights (aurora) displays are possible sometime over the next two nights if skies are clear and the activity peaks in your local nighttime,” according to a report from the British Geological Survey.

The biggest sun flare in the Sun’s current 11 year cycle will be in 2013, and in the modern world we live in where computers are an integral part of our lives, this could pose serious problems. Modern computer chips are extremely voltage sensitive and scientists warn that there is a very real probability that eventually a solar flare could knock out all modern electronics…

Giant solar blast headed directly for Earth – perfect for photographers

Aurora borealis in Canada

First of all, there’s no need to panic; solar blasts can cause geomagnetic perturbances, but they pose no direct danger for humans or any other inhabitants of our planet in a direct manner. The biggest such flare in the past four years erupted on Monday, and it’s sending jets of charged particles that will reach our planet in the next 24 to 48 hours.

The flare will cause lovely and bright aureolas when it hits the planet’s magnetosphere, and promises to be a delight for both professional and amateur photographers. NOAA forecasters estimate that there is a 45 percent chance of geomagnetic activity on Thursday, when the most significant part of the radiation will hit Earth. The flare, which was classified as a class X2.2 will create a stunning display of aurora borealis, commonly known as northern lights.

So ladies and gentlemen, gear up ! Look towards the sky, take your best pictures, and share them ! You won’t be able to see them from everywhere in the world, so if you’re lucky enough to get even a glimpse of the northern lights, send us the pictures. We will post every single picture that you send us, or every bit of information you have. Just use the contact button from the top of the page.

So ladies and gentlemen,