Tag Archives: northern lights

Northern Lights.

Solar storm expected to bring northern lights to the U.S. tonight

There’s more bad weather forecasted for today, but this is the kind that we’ll all be thankful for — a minor solar storm will hit our planet on Wednesday, March 14. The event could amp up Earth’s auroras, making them visible from the northernmost parts of the U.S.

Northern Lights.

Image credits Svetlana Nesterova.

“Northern tier” states, such as Michigan or Maine, could be in for a treat as amped-up auroras (northern lights) could dance across the sky tonight, a product of a solar storm inbound towards Earth. The same storm could also induce some fluctuations in weaker power grids, and should only have a minor effect on our satellites, according to an alert issued from the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in Boulder, Colorado.

Researchers at the SWPC predict that the storm originates from a coronal hole in the sun, a region of lower energy and with a weaker magnetic field in the Sun’s outer layer. The particular conditions in this area allow high-speed, charged particles to shoot out into space, eventually finding their way to Earth. The storm will be a G1 class — making it a relatively minor event — and should last from Wednesday to Thursday, March 15.

Light it up

Auroras (known as ‘borealis’ over the North Pole and ‘australis’ over the South Pole) form from the interaction of these particles with the Earth’s magnetic field. Because they are charged, they are directly affected by the magnetic field when trying to pass through; similarly to how a pane of glass would ‘interact’ with you, should you try to pass through it.

We don’t fully understand the mechanisms behind aurora formation, but, in broad lines, the pretty colors are the result of ionization in the upper atmosphere. This, in turn, is produced by successive collisions of high-speed charged particles with atoms in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, causing them to shed electrons and protons (to ionize). Auroras can form on other planets with an atmosphere, through a similar process.

Particularly strong solar storms can trigger geomagnetic storms. Depending on its intensity, this could mean radio blackouts, fluctuations in power grids, maybe even with satellites in orbit.

Auroras or polar lights typically form near the (magnetic) poles, where the geomagnetic field is thinnest, and these charged particles can force their way through. Events such as solar storms widen the area on which auroras form because they put out more charged particles than usual — the deluge compresses Earth’s magnetic field, so some particles can push through at lower latitudes. In 1989, for example, a similar event made auroras form all the way down to Texas.

So fingers crossed, and you might get to enjoy one superb light show later today — nature’s treat.

For the first time, scientists directly observe how Northern Lights are formed

With the advent of new satellite technology, researchers have confirmed the theories behind this impressive phenomenon.

When it comes to natural shows, it doesn’t get much better than the Northern Lights. This dazzling light show was admired by humans since the beginning of time, but scientists still haven’t been able to fully confirm theories about its formation — until now. For the first time, geophysicists at the University of Tokyo have directly observed the underlying mechanisms causing the Northern Lights, thereby confirming long-held theories about their formation.

“Auroral substorms … are caused by global reconfiguration in the magnetosphere, which releases stored solar wind energy,” writes lead author Satoshi Kasahara, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at the Graduate School of Science of the University of Tokyo in Japan, the lead author of the paper. “They are characterized by auroral brightening from dusk to midnight, followed by violent motions of distinct auroral arcs that eventually break up, and emerge as diffuse, pulsating auroral patches at dawn.”

The spectacular light show starts with a type of plasma wave called chorus waves. The magnetic reconfiguration can cause these chorus waves to rain electrons into the upper atmosphere. This balances the system, but in the process, gives off colorful lights as electrons fall into the atmosphere.

The scattered electrons precipitate into the atmosphere resulting in auroral illumination. Intermittent occurrence of chorus waves and associated electron scattering leads to auroral pulsation. Image credits: The 2018 ERG science team.

It’s been the leading theory for sometime, but there were still question about whether these chorus waves have enough energy to produce the auroras. Now, researchers have finally caught them in the act.

“We, for the first time, directly observed scattering of electrons by chorus waves generating particle precipitation into the Earth’s atmosphere,” Kasahara said. “The precipitating electron flux was sufficiently intense to generate pulsating aurora.”

They were able to observe this phenomenon thanks to a new type of equipment. Generally, electron sensors cannot distinguish the precipitating electrons of other types, so Kasahara and his team developed a new sensor that can observe the interactions between electrons and chorus waves. The sensor was fitted aboard the Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) satellite launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in December 2016.

A full understanding of all the physical processes involved in the creation of different types of auroras is still incomplete, but the pieces are starting to fall into place. Researchers will now use the ERG satellite to understand other phenomena associated with the magnetosphere.

Journal Reference: S. Kasahara at al. Pulsating aurora from electron scattering by chorus waves. Nature, 2018; 554 (7692): 337 DOI: 10.1038/nature25505

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.


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.

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

San Diego Red Tide

Glow in the dark waves on the San Diego shoreline

Photo by catalano82.

Strollers along the San Diego shoreline experienced their own kind of Northern Lights these past few days, only the western coast equivalent is less about skyline astral projections, and more about a grand neon blue light show luminating from within the ocean’s waves. And less cold.

The event is actually a bioluminescence  phenomenon and is caused by a algae bloom called the “red tide.” The organism,  a phytoplankton called Lingulodinium polyedrum, has bloomed since late August, turning the water a brownish-red color in the daytime. In the night time, however, the coastline is lit with a mystical electric-blue hue.

The bioluminescence is a chemical reaction on a cellular level within the algae caused by the motion of the waves, according to Scripps Institution of Oceanography Professor Peter J. Franks, who calls the phytoplankton “my favorite dinoflagellate.”

“Why favorite?” Franks wrote in an email Q&A posted on the blog Deep-Sea News. “Because it’s intensely bioluminescent. When jostled, each organism will give off a flash of blue light created by a chemical reaction within the cell. When billions and billions of cells are jostled — say, by a breaking wave — you get a seriously spectacular flash of light.”

On the San Diego beaches even footprints in the sand are illuminated where the plankton has washed ashore. Anybody from San Diego reading ZME Science? I’d love to hear some on-site reactions, or maybe you could share some photos on our facebook page.

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.

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,