Tag Archives: solar flare

An artist's conception of HD 209458 b, an exoplanet whose atmosphere is being torn off at more than 35,000 km/hour by the radiation of its close-by parent star. This hot Jupiter was the first alien world discovered via the transit method, and the first planet to have its atmosphere studied. [NASA/European Space Agency/Alfred Vidal-Madjar (Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, CNRS)]

Stellar flares can strip away the atmosphere of planets, make them less habitable

As humanity continues to explore planets beyond the solar system — exoplanets — investigations into conditions on these worlds become increasingly complex. This includes the question of whether these exoplanets can support life. 

New research has identified which stars would be most likely to host planets with the necessary conditions for habitability, based upon that star’s stellar activity and crucially the rate at which such activity strips away a planet’s atmosphere. 

“We wanted to figure out how planets lose their atmospheres from extreme ultraviolet radiation and estimate their impact on their potential to host life,” Dimitra Atri, a researcher from the Space Science at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), tells ZME Science. “We focused on a channel of escape called hydrodynamic escape where stellar radiation heats up the planet’s atmosphere and a part of it escapes into space.”

An artist's conception of HD 209458 b, an exoplanet whose atmosphere is being torn off at more than 35,000 km/hour by the radiation of its close-by parent star. This hot Jupiter was the first alien world discovered via the transit method, and the first planet to have its atmosphere studied. [NASA/European Space Agency/Alfred Vidal-Madjar (Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, CNRS)]
An artist’s conception of HD 209458 b, an exoplanet whose atmosphere is being torn off at more than 35,000 km/hour by the radiation of its close-by parent star. This hot Jupiter was the first alien world discovered via the transit method, and the first planet to have its atmosphere studied. [NASA/European Space Agency/Alfred Vidal-Madjar (Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, CNRS)]

Atri is the author of a paper published in the journal Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society: Letters, which analyzes flare emissions using data collected by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) observatory ultimately helping to determine where else in the Universe life is most likely to prosper.

Harbouring Life: A Question of Water Retention

Planet habitability is closely associated with that world’s ability to hold liquid water. That means that factors which can boil away that water or cause it to be lost to space reduce that habitability. The habitable zone of a star’s environment is defined as the range at which a planet can orbit and still possess liquid water. This means not too hot or too cold — criteria that led to the alternative name for such regions, the Goldilocks zone.

Yet, distance and a star’s luminosity are not the only factors which can affect a planet’s ability to hold liquid water. Space weather — including solar flares — is another determining element, one that as of yet is not well understood. “Flares erode planetary atmospheres,” Atri says. “A substantial atmosphere is needed to sustain liquid water on a planet’s surface. Flares reduce those chances and make planets less habitable.”

Betelgeuse a type H 1-2 star similar to those Atri found jettison frequent XUV flares which can strip an exoplanet’s atmosphere reducing conditions for habitability (NASA/SDO)

What Atri, alongside coauthor and graduate student Shane Carberry Mogan, discovered was that whilst luminosity from a star was still the primary driving factor in atmosphere stripping, flares were a more important factor for some stars than others. In particular, they discovered that flares from M0-M4 stars — cool, red stars like Betelgeuse — were more likely to strip an orbiting planet’s atmosphere. 

The duo determined that more frequent, lower energy flares in the extreme ultraviolet region (XUV) of the electromagnetic spectrum were more effective at stripping a planet’s atmosphere and thus reducing its habitability than less frequent, higher energy outbursts. XUV radiation strikes a planet’s atmosphere heating it. This causes hydrodynamic escape, pushing out light atoms first, which through collision and other drag effects also pull out heavier molecules. 

“We find that for most stars, luminosity-induced escape is the main loss mechanism, with a minor contribution from flares,” Atri explains. “However, flares dominate the loss mechanism of around 20 per cent of M4–M10 stars.

“M0–M4 stars are most likely to completely erode both their proto- and secondary atmospheres, whilst M4–M10 stars are least likely to erode secondary atmospheres.”

The study also highlights the fact that better modelling of the factors that affect an exoplanet’s atmosphere is needed. Determining the systems and planets most likely to harbour life will play an important factor in selecting targets for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope — set to launch on October 31st 2021 — and the ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) currently under construction in the Acatma desert, Chile. 

“The next research step would be to expand our data set to analyze stellar flares from a larger variety of stars to see the long-term effects of stellar activity, and to identify more potentially habitable exoplanets,” adds Atri.

The researcher also points out that the continued investigation of how planets lose their atmosphere could also focus on a target closer to home, our nearest neighbour, Mars. “Since it is extremely difficult to observe the escape process in exoplanets, we are planning to study this phenomenon in great detail on Mars with the UAE’s Hope mission,” the researcher says, explaining how observations from Mars missions can be used to better understand atmospheric escape and how this knowledge can be applied to exoplanets.“We will then apply our understanding of atmospheric escape to exoplanets and estimate the impact of extreme UV radiation on planetary habitability.”

An artist’s illustration of UAE’s Tess probe approaching the surface of Mars. Atri believes this investigation could yeild important data about exoplanet habitability.
(Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre)

Further to the question of habitability, the study begins to address the wider question of the dynamics of stars and their planetary systems and the evolution of such arrangements. “Given the close proximity of exoplanets to host stars, it is vital to understand how space weather events tied to those stars can affect the habitability of the exoplanet,” Atri concludes. “Stars and planets are very tightly coupled in a number of ways and an improved understanding of this coupling are absolutely necessary to find habitable planets in our Galaxy and beyond.”

Atri. D., Carberry Morgan. S. R., [2020], ‘Stellar flares versus luminosity: XUV-induced atmospheric escape and planetary habitability,’ Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society: Letters.

X-Rays could sterilise alien planets that would be otherwise habitable

Intense radiation could peel off the ozone layer around Earth-like planets, essentially wiping out all land life in the process.

A diagram of the Habitable Zone, sometimes called the Goldilocks Area. Shown is temperature vs starlight received. Some notable exoplanets are placed on the diagram, plus Earth, Venus, and Mars. Image credits: Chester Harman.

Astronomers have already discovered over 3,700 planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. Out of them, several are rocky and comparable in size to Earth, and out of these, some are in the so-called Habitable Zone — orbiting their stars in just the right range that allows for liquid water to exist on the surface. But just because they’re in the Habitable Zone that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re habitable.

Most planets we’ve found so far (and presumably, most in our galaxy) orbit red dwarf stars — relatively cool stars, significantly smaller than the sun. In order to be in the habitable zone, planets around red dwarfs need to be closer to their star, which exposes them to X-rays.

Although they’re smaller and cooler, red dwarfs can produce significant X-ray emissions, often during large flares of radiation and eruptions of particles in so-called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). In order to assess the risk of such an ejection, Eike Guenther of the Thueringer Observatory in Germany has been monitoring CMEs from red dwarfs. Just last month, he observed a giant flare from the star AD Leo, located 16 light years away in the constellation of Leo.

AD Leo hosts a known giant planet and potentially many others which we haven’t discovered yet. Guenther’s initial results showed that the giant planet was unaffected, and unlike most flares in our solar system, the radiation flare was not accompanied by a CME. This is good news for life around red dwarfs — around smaller stars, X-ray ejections aren’t that common, so there’s a smaller chance of a devastating X-ray event.

But even so, if such an ejection does take place, it could easily cut through the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet, reaching the surface, and wiping out 94% of the planet’s ozone layer — enough to destroy all land life. Astronomers warn that if there’s an event that could be fatal for most or all life on the planet, a small chance isn’t small enough.

“Astronomers are mounting a global effort to find Earth-like worlds, and to answer the age-old question of whether we are alone in the Universe. With sporadic outbursts of hard X-rays, our work suggests planets around the commonest low-mass stars are not great places for life, at least on dry land,” Guenther concludes.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed and will be presented at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science.

This brave spacecraft will soon fly through the sun’s atmosphere

A car-sized spacecraft called the Parker Solar Probe is set to make history after it launches for an unprecedented destination: the sun. Touted as humanity’s first visit to a star, the spacecraft will fly through the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, getting seven times closer to the star’s surface than any spacecraft before it.

Artist impression of the Parker Solar Probe. Credit: NASA.

Artist impression of the Parker Solar Probe. Credit: NASA.

The one-of-a-kind spacecraft will employ a combination of in-situ measurements and imaging to probe the corona in unprecedented detail, revealing novel insights about the origin and evolution of the sun and the processes that govern it. In doing so, scientists will be able to improve their ability to forecast potentially hazardous solar storms and flares that can affect life and technology on Earth.

One such threat is represented by outbursts of coronal mass — huge bubbles of gas threaded with magnetic field lines that are ejected from the Sun over the course of several hours. When these strike the Earth, the consequences can be catastrophic. Some even claim a really powerful coronal mass ejection could fry most electronics on Earth or our communication satellite fleet up in orbit. Some of you might remember the 1989 Quebec incident, when the whole city had a blackout after the entire grid got fried, causing an estimated $2 billion Canadian in damage at the time. Besides blackouts, CMEs can also disrupt GPS signals and radio telecommunications.

Icarus 2.0

The probe will stay seven weeks inside a thermal vacuum chamber. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/Ed Whitman.

The probe will stay seven weeks inside a thermal vacuum chamber. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/Ed Whitman.

Parker will come as close as 3.9 million miles (6.3 million km) to our star’s surface, well within Mercury’s orbit, hurtling around the sun at approximately 430,000 mph (700,000 kph).

To achieve their goals, NASA engineers protected the spacecraft with a 4.5-inch-thick (11.4 cm) carbon-composite shield which can withstand temperatures in excess of 2,500°F (1,377 C). The same shield will also protect Parker and its delicate instruments from the frostbite of space. Soon enough, we’ll know if the spacecraft will be ready for its launch scheduled for some time in the July 31 – Aug.  19, 2018 window. That’s because last week one of the probe’s most important tests began.

Engineers placed Parker into a thermal vacuum chamber where, over the course of the seven weeks, it will experience various simulated challenges of the kind it will be subjected to during the mission. Inside the dark, 40-foot-tall chamber, the spacecraft will be chilled to -292°F (-180°C) to simulate the chilling embrace of space, then blasted with the kind of heat the probe will encounter at its closest approach to the sun. Under such extreme conditions, NASA engineers will test the probe’s instruments and equipment such as its solar panels, which flap open and close like a bird’s wings.

Once deemed ready, Parker will be launched from a Delta IV Heavy rocket towards Venus’ orbit, where it will perform seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the sun and into its corona.

Scientists hope that the data beamed back by the probe will help answer some very puzzling questions about the sun and its quirky phenomena. For instance, solar scientist Eugene Parker — the man after whom the spacecraft is named —  first discovered in the 1950s that the solar wind of charged particles streaming from the corona moves faster than the speed of sound. To this day, we don’t know exactly why. Other mysteries which the probe might answer would be why the corona is hotter than the sun’s surface and how particles are ejected out of the corona and into space.

We’ve learned a lot about the sun in the last half-century but some things can never be settled unless you get close enough. Today’s technology finally makes it possible to send a spacecraft close enough to fly through the sun’s scorching atmosphere. Let’s just hope that, unlike Icarus, Parker’s wings won’t burn before it finishes its mission.

How Spanish scientists described a solar flare in 1886

This is how a Spanish teenager became one of the first people to ever describe the rare phenomenon.

Drawing by Valderrama of the solar flare he observed on 10 September 1886 on a sunspot (with the penumbra shown with hashed lines and the umbra in black). Credits: Library of the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute. / Credit: IAC.

“A huge, beautiful sunspot was formed from yesterday to today. It is elongated due to its proximity to the limb … by looking at it carefully I noticed an extraordinary phenomenon on her, on the penumbra to the west of the nucleus, and almost in contact with it, a very bright object was distinguishable producing a shadow clearly visible on the sunspot penumbra. This object had an almost circular shape, and a light beam came out from its eastern part that crossed the sunspot to the south of the nucleus, producing a shadow on the penumbra that was lost in the large mass of faculae surrounding the eastern extreme of the sunspot”.

With these words, Juan Valderrama y Aguilar, a 17-year-old amateur astronomer, described what he witnessed with his small telescope, with an aperture of just 6.6 cm and equipped with a neutral density filter to dim the solar light. He wrote down what he witnessed and even made a drawing (see above) of the flare. He then submitted his observations to the French journal L’Astronomie, which published it.

Amazing real-life image of a solar flare ejected on August 31, 2012 from the Sun's atmosphere, the corona, as seen from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The flare caused an aurora on Earth on September 3. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

Amazing real-life image of a solar flare ejected on August 31, 2012 from the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, as seen from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The flare caused an aurora on Earth on September 3. Credit: NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

“The case of Valderrama is very unique, as he was the only person in the world more than a century ago to observe a relatively rare phenomenon: a white-light solar flare. And until now no one had realised”, explains José Manuel Vaquero, a lecturer at the University of Extremadura and co-author of an article about the event, now being published in the journal Solar Physics, to Sinc.

White-light solar flashes are caused by the sun’s acceleration of electrons to speeds greater than half the speed of light. They’re sudden flashes of increased Sun’s brightness, usually observed near its surface. Such solar flares are difficult to study without complex equipment, which is why they were rarely seen until recent years.

Before Valderrama, only two instances have ever been reported. The first was by British astronomer Richard C. Carrington in 1859, and the second by the Italian Pietro Angelo Secchi in 1872. Both reports caused quite a stir in their day, as scientists were wondering if the phenomenon would affect the Earth. Valderrama’s case received much less exposure, and the man himself was not as famous as his counterparts. Vaquero will now publish Valderrama’s first biography.

Journal Reference: J.M. Vaquero, M. Vázquez, J. Sánchez Almeida. “Evidence of a White-Light Flare on 10 September 1886”. Solar Physics 292: 33, 2017. DOI 10.1007/sll207-017-1059-6.

The Sun unleashed a powerful flare on 4 November 2003. The Extreme ultraviolet Imager in the 195A emission line aboard the SOHO spacecraft captured the event. Credit: ESA & NASA/SOHO

Monster solar flare could wipe out our electric infrastructure within next 100 years

As far as extraterrestrial threats go, most of our attention is directed towards asteroids or even aliens. While the last cataclysmic asteroid impact occurred tens of millions of years ago, extremely powerful solar flares hit Earth far more often. The last time it happened was about 150 years ago but the damage was minimal since the world was barely electrified. Solar flares aren’t a threat to life on Earth directly, but hugely energetic particles that interact with the atmosphere and magnetic field could fry much of our electrical infrastructure. A new paper suggests the next one is due in the next hundred years.

The Sun unleashed a powerful flare on 4 November 2003. The Extreme ultraviolet Imager in the 195A emission line aboard the SOHO spacecraft captured the event. Credit: ESA & NASA/SOHO

The Sun unleashed a powerful flare on 4 November 2003. The Extreme ultraviolet Imager in the 195A emission line aboard the SOHO spacecraft captured the event. Credit: ESA & NASA/SOHO

Without power and means of communicating, civilization could plunge into chaos. By the time people get organized to plug the holes in our infrastructure, runaway anarchy could make it extremely difficult to return to the previous status quo. The sun, usually ‘the friend’ without whom life on Earth wouldn’t be possible, could one day turn into our biggest threat. That’s what Avi Loeb and Manasvi Lingham, both at Harvard University, seem to think.

“We propose that the most powerful superflares can serve as plausible drivers of extinction events, and that their periodicity corresponds to certain patterns in the terrestrial fossil diversity record,” the authors wrote in The Astrophysical Journal. 

When the sun gets overly excited

The two recently published a paper where they crunched the numbers to see what the risks life on habitable planets faces from superflares. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation that emanate from so-called hotspots on the surface of the sun. They are seen as bright areas on the sun and they can last from minutes to hours. Solare flares happen all the time but their intensity can vary wildly, depending on where the sun’s cycle dial sits at a certain moment. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

For instance, the 1859 Carrington flare crashed telegraph systems around the world, with some operators reporting they had been electrocuted. At least it was pretty. Skies all over planet Earth were painted in red, green, and purple auroras so brilliant that newspapers could be read as easily as in daylight. The stunning auroras pulsated even at near tropical latitudes over Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Hawaii.

“Back then, there was not very much technology so the damage was not very significant, but if it happened in the modern world, the damage could be trillions of dollars,” says Loeb. “A flare like that today could shut down all the power grids, all the computers, all the cooling systems on nuclear reactors. A lot of things could go bad.”

According to Loeb and Lingam, if a solar flare of the same magnitude as the one in 1859 fired today at Earth, it would cause $10 trillion of damage to ‘power grids, satellites, and communications’. The very worst monster solar flares can fire bursts of charged particles so powerful it can destroy the ozone layer or cause DNA mutations. Such extreme events can occur on a star like the Sun about every 20 million years, the scientists reported. Far less intense but still dangerous ones, however, are far more frequent. For instance, there’s a 12 percent chance an event similar to the Carrington flare will happen in the next decade. Previous research suggests that within a hundred years, such an event is likely to happen.

solar-flare

Credit: IMPACT AND MITIGATION STRATEGY FOR FUTURE SOLAR FLARES, Manasvi Lingamnand Abraham Loeb.

Given the potential economic and social consequences, we ought to prepare, some scientists stress. A potentially viable solution is deploying a space-shield that would cost some $100 billion by an estimate. The shield would consist of a 100,000 tons copper coil with a terawatt of energy, placed at a Lagrange point, which are like parking spots in space. Finding funding for such a planetary-sized project could prove difficult, to say the least. In the meantime, we should at least invest more resources and energy into learning more about how superflares work in the hope that we’ll one day outwit them.

The sun on May 23, 1967. The solar flare occurred in the bright region on top. Credit: National Solar Observatory

How a 1967 Solar Flare nearly plunged the World into Nuclear Holocaust

The sun on May 23, 1967. The solar flare occurred in the bright region on top. Credit: National Solar Observatory

The sun on May 23, 1967. The solar flare occurred in the bright region on top. Credit: National Solar Observatory

It’s the morning of May 23, 1967, and it’s the height of the Cold War. Suddenly, radar stations in the Arctic that were supposed to be on the lookout 24/7 for Soviet inter-ballistic missiles became jammed. Hours earlier, the sun spewed a massive solar flare, which once it hit Earth’s atmosphere created a geomagnetic storm that muted the radar. But solar science was still in its infancy around this time, so the Air Force naturally believed the Soviets were responsible and were potentially preparing a nuclear strike (who got to be the first was a constant source of paranoia for both superpowers during the Cold War). Aircraft loaded with nuclear warheads were quickly ordered to prepare to join the other bombers who were constantly in the air at an arm’s reach from the Soviet Union.

Nuclear war and potentially worldwide total annihilation hinged on a thin thread — and all because the sun had a bad day.

We’re still alive, though

Because of science. Better said, because of a group of pioneering scientists like Retired Colonel Arnold L. Snyder who was on duty that day at NORAD’s Solar Forecast Center.

NORAD had started to receive data about the sun’s activity on a daily basis only a couple of years prior. But though still a fledgling science, solar observations using ground-based telescopes were pretty reliable and scientists had already amassed enough data to understand how capricious the sun can be and what it can do to electronic communications.

On May 18, 1967, scientists spotted an unusually large group of sun spots. Five days later, forecasters saw the sun became very active and knew a big flare was imminent. According to a bulletin released by NORAD’s Solar Forecast Center in Colorado Springs on May 23, a geomagnetic storm was supposed to occur in the following 36 to 48 hours. Pretty spot on.

That same day, all three Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) sites in the far Northern Hemisphere were jammed. Not long after NORAD called Snyder thinking, hoping he might have news about a natural electromagnetic interference.

“I specifically recall responding with excitement, ‘Yes, half the sun has blown away,’ and then related the event details in a calmer, more quantitative way,” Snyder said.

NORAD quickly contacted the U.S. Air Force which was on the highest alert possible. Together, they pieced together what they knew so far: 1) that the radar stations were in clear sight of the solar flare, 2) the science of electromagnetic interference, 3) jamming waned in concert with decreased solar radio emissions.

Eventually, the Air Force was put off alert and no additional planes put in the sky — something that would have certainly alarmed the Russians. Many days later, it was clear that the sun was having a field day. U.S. radio communications were disrupted for almost a week, and the beautiful Northern Lights, typically a spectacle which only eyes in the Arctic can enjoy, were visible as far South as New Mexico!

A report of solar activity on May 26 from the Space Disturbance Forecast Center, a civilian forecasting center at the Environmental Science Services Administration (now NOAA). Credit: ESSA/NOAA.

A report of solar activity on May 26 from the Space Disturbance Forecast Center, a civilian forecasting center at the Environmental Science Services Administration (now NOAA).
Credit: ESSA/NOAA.

This amazing story was kept secret for almost 50 years, and only recently made public by Retired Air Force officers in a new paper published in the journal Space Weather

“This is a grave situation,” said Delores Knipp, a space physicist at the University of Colorado in Boulder and lead author of the new study. “But here’s where the story turns: things were going horribly wrong, and then something goes commendably right.”

“Had it not been for the fact that we had invested very early on in solar and geomagnetic storm observations and forecasting, the impact [of the storm] likely would have been much greater,” Knipp said. “This was a lesson learned in how important it is to be prepared.”

Solar flare

The sun goes through quasi-seasonal changes, a find that could help protect power grids back on Earth

Just like our own planet, the sun goes through seasonal changes in its activity, waxing and waning over the course of nearly two years driven by changes in newly discovered bands of strong magnetic fields. This variability helps shape the sun’s long-term 11 year cycle, yet again part of a longer cycle that lasts 22 days. Largely unpredictable, the sun constantly spews highly charged particles known as coronal mass ejections which can severely affect power grids, satellites and even airplane passengers. During its seasonal peaks, however, the sun is much more prone to solar storms, so understanding how this cyclic variability happens is key to averting a potential disaster.

Solar flare

Image: NASA

The researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) carefully studied data from NASA satellites, as well as  ground-based observatories. They found that magnetic bands (fluctuations in density of magnetic fields)  rise from the sun’s interior to the surface through a transition region known as the tachocline.

Scott McIntosh, lead author of the new study and director of NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory, likens magnetic bands in the sun’s atmosphere to the Earth’s jet stream, a river of air that encircles the planet.

“Much like Earth’s jet stream, whose warps and waves have had severe impact on our regional weather patterns in the past couple of winters, the bands on the Sun have very slow-moving waves that can expand and warp it too,” said co-author Robert Leamon, a scientist at Montana State University. “Sometimes this results in magnetic fields leaking from one band to the other. In other cases, the warp drags magnetic fields from deep in the solar interior, near the tachocline, and pushes them toward the surface.”

“These surges or ‘whomps’ as we have dubbed them, are responsible for over 95 percent of the large flares and CMEs–the ones that are really devastating,” McIntosh said.

First, the bands start off at the high latitudes and carry opposite magnetic polarity. When they’re far apart, sunspots  – and hence solar storms – are at their peak. When the bands migrate towards the equator, the instability terminates and new bands are born at the poles restarting the cycle.

Knowledge like this is fundamental to predicting space weather and taking preemptive measures against a potential solar onslaught. In 1979, solar flares knocked-out  long-distance telephone service across Illinois and, in 1989, another flare caused a nine-hour power outage in Quebec, leaving about 6 million people without electricity. New observations on models made on supercomputers will definitely render more insight, but if we’re really serious about studying the capricious sun then we might need to put in place a swarm of satellites. According to McIntosh, just like the current fleet hovering beyond Earth, such satellites could vastly advance solar weather models.

“If you understand what the patterns of solar activity are telling you, you’ll know whether we’re in the stormy phase or the quiet phase in each hemisphere,” McIntosh said. “If we can combine these pieces of information, forecast skill goes through the roof.”

Scientists find the sound of stars

A chance discovery has provided experimental evidence that stars may generate sound. While he was examining the interaction of an ultra-intense laser with a plasma target, John Parsley from the University of York found that interfering plasma generates a series of pressure pulses – in other words, sounds.

Solar flare. Image via Wikipedia.

Parsley and his team were studying plasma interactions on the surface of stars by applying an ultra-intense laser beam to a plasma target when they observed something rather unexpected. In the trillionth of a second when the laser strikes, plasma rapidly flows from areas of high density to areas of low density, piling up at the interface between the high and low density regions, generating pressure waves.

While this experimental setup seems rather unique, there is one place where this takes place: on the surface of stars. Parsley said:

“One of the few locations in nature where we believe this effect would occur is at the surface of stars. When they are accumulating new material stars could generate sound in a very similar manner to that which we observed in the laboratory — so the stars might be singing — but, since sound cannot propagate through the vacuum of space, no one can hear them.”

But even if you could hear the sounds… you couldn’t hear it. The sounds come out at very high frequencies, nearly a trillion hertz – almost the highest possible frequency for this type of material. To say that humans, as well as bats or dolphins can’t hear it is almost an understatement – the frequency is six million times higher than what can be heard by any mammal.

Dr Alex Robinson from the Plasma Physics Group at STFC’s Central Laser Facility took things even further, developing a numerical model to generate acoustic waves for the experiment. He said:

“It was initially hard to determine the origin of the acoustic signals, but our model produced results that compared favorably with the wavelength shifts observed in the experiment. This showed that we had discovered a new way of generating sound from fluid flows. Similar situations could occur in plasma flowing around stars”

Journal Reference: Amitava Adak, A. P. L. Robinson, Prashant Kumar Singh, Gourab Chatterjee, Amit D. Lad, John Pasley, G. Ravindra Kumar. Terahertz Acoustics in Hot Dense Laser Plasmas. Physical Review Letters, 2015; 114 (11) DOI:10.1103/PhysRevLett.114.115001

Sun’s magnetic ‘heartbeat’ is discovered

A magnetic solar ‘heartbeat’ beats deep down in the Sun’s interior, generating energy that leads to solar flares and sunspots.

Solar flares and sunspots

solar flare

A solar flare is a large energy release in the form of a sudden brightening of the surface or the solar limb. The flare ejects clouds of electrons, ions, and atoms through the corona of the sun into space. The frequency of solar flares varies from several each day (when the star is active) to less than one a week. Solar flares were first observed on the Sun by Richard Christopher Carrington and independently by Richard Hodgson in 1859, and since then they were observed on other stars.

sunspot

Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the sun’s surface which appear as dark spots compared to surrounding regions. Basically, whenever certain conditions are met, intense magnetic activity inhibits the convection currents which typically occur in the Sun. This results in an area which is significantly cooler than its surrounding region. They usually appear as pairs, with each sunspot having the opposite magnetic pole than the other.

Modelling the Sun

A new supercomputer simulation, described in the April 4 edition of the journal Science, probes the sun’s periodic magnetic field reversals. According to this model, a solar cycle 4 times longer than the 11 year sunspot cycle governs the level of solar activity. Being able to create a model that fits the actual data so well and creates such a regular pattern is remarkable, astrophysicists say.

magnetic sun

Modelling the Sun has always been a problematic issue; turbulence occurs both at small and large scales, and even though big ones are relatively easy to model with today’s technology, small scale turbulences are much harder to figure out – but they’re just as important in understanding how fluid propagates.

Whenever a vortex is formed on the surface of the Sun, the energy dissipates into smaller and smaller whirpool shapes, called vortices. You can test this out yourselves, by swirling your hand in the bathtub. The movement will break up into smaller ones, which will subsequently break off into smaller ones, and so on. However, on the surface of the Sun, which is ~1 million times larger than that of the Earth, dissipation takes place at a scale of tens of meters. Of course, judging by scale, these features are much too small to be taken into account by any model.

“There’s no way we can capture that in a simulation,” Charbonneau explained.

When conducitng such approximations for models, the resolution goes to about 10 kilometers – this insufficient resolution gradually creates an energy build up that “blows up” the model before running too lon.

Stopping the “blow up”

Co-author Piotr Smolarkiewicz of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, focuses his work on meteorology rather than astronomy. His input was decisive, because the same turbulence principles apply to both fields.

His team used supercomputers at the University of Montreal that are linked to Calcul Québec, a network of large computers used across the province of Quebec. Trying to find a workaround the blow up problem, they created a model that dissipates the energy just as the collapse is about to happen.

“It’s not easy to do in a fluid system like that. If you start removing energy too quick, you will affect the global dynamics of the system,” Charbonneau said.

The model isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely a big step forward.

“There’s a link between convective energy transport and the magnetic cycle, and you can measure that through going through the simulation and pulling out the flows, the primary variables,” Charbonneau said. “Once you have a magnetic cycle that builds up and develops in the simulation,” he added, “you can analyze how that affects convective transport and the sun’s luminosity.”

gamma-ray-burst

Earth was hit by a massive gamma-ray burst in the 8th century

gamma-ray-burst

The most powerful explosion in the Universe – a gamma-ray burst–  might have hit Earth during the middle ages. Luckily enough for our ancestors the event had its origin thousands of light years away and its effects went by unnoticed.

Last year, scientists found  unusual levels of radioactive carbon-14 in cedar trees in Japan and spikes of  beryllium-10 in Antarctic ice, signifying that intense amounts of radiations hit the atoms in the upper atmosphere. After dating both tree rings and ice core samples, the researchers were able to pinpoint the spikes at AD 774 and AD 775, however the exact cause of the radioactive event is still open for debate.

German physicists at the Institute of Astrophysics at the University of Jena firmly believe that a gamma-ray burst – the most powerful explosion in the Universe typically triggered when black holes, neutron stars or white dwarfs collide – hit our planet during that time.

“Gamma-ray bursts are very, very explosive and energetic events, and so we considered from the energy what would be the distance given the energy observed,” said Professor Ralph Neuhauser, from the Institute of Astrophysics at the University of Jena.

“Our conclusion was it was 3,000 to 12,000 light-years away – and this is within our galaxy.”

Now, how come such an event didn’t cause a tremendous amount of hassle? One would expect records of an astonishing event especially from the likes of our superstitious medieval forefathers. The physicists explain that since the gamma-ray burst had its origin so far away from Earth, most of its radiation was absorbed by the ever faithful and protective atmosphere. This made the event unnoticeable, except for same traces that left their mark in isotopes. Had the gamma-ray occurred only a few hundred light years away from Earth, things would have been much different. The massive burst of radiation would have fried the planet’s ozone layer, with devastating consequences for life on the planet.

The findings were reported in the  journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Not all scientists agree that a gamma-ray event triggered the event. Another team of physicists, this time from the US, believe that an unusual massive solar flare could have caused the intense spike in isotopes. The American astronomers awknoledge the possibility of a gamma-ray burst, however keeping mind that such events are extremely rare, occurring at most every 10,000 years per galaxy, and at the least every million years per galaxy. Their take was described in a recent paper published in Nature.

“A solar proton event and a short gamma-ray burst are both possible explanations, but based on the rates that we know about in the Universe, the gamma-ray burst explanation is about 10,000 times less likely to be true in that time period,” Professor Adrian Melott from the University of Kansas.

via BBC

Doomsday part 4: Solar flares

mayan-doomsday-special-zmescience

A solar flare will breach Earth’s magnetic field that typically shelters our planet’s surface from such hazards. The ensuing onslaught would fry all electronic devices in the world and cut power grids. Chaos would ubiquitously surface causing anarchy in a Mad Max type of scenario. New age prophets have for years labeled technology as the devil’s tool, along with money which is today almost exclusively controlled online, and its annihilation would signify humanity’s break from these shackles and the beginning of a new age. Other doomsday scenarios say that once with December 21 a huge solar flare would devastatingly hit Earth with radiation purging all life.

Reality check

Solar flares are indeed hazardous to technology. It’s not unheard of satellites that go offline, sometimes permanently, as a result of being hit by solar flares or coronal mass ejections triggered by the sun. A famous historical event, sure to be mentioned by doomsday promoters, is the 1989 Hydro-Québec’s electricity transmission system as a result of a severe electromagnetic storm. The huge energy fried the grid, and since it was still the Cold War, many people were engulfed in panic. Also at least 30 satellites, some of which were beyond repair.

Our sun works in 11 year cycles. Currently, we’re at the end of the sun’s cycle, with its peak scheduled around 2013 and 2014. Doomsday conspirators take advantage of this close proximity to induce panic by linking it to the end of the Mayan calendar. First of all, while high energy particles indeed hit Earth’s magnetic field, the damage is by no means harmful to humans, so the “radiation” scenario doesn’t apply from the get go.

NASA has reported that the current solar cycle is of average intensity, and shouldn’t be more damaging or harmless than the past cycles the sun went through. Again, the the peak of the solar cycle will occur in 2014, not at the end of 2012.

Read about other popular Mayan doomsday “prophecies” from our debunking series:

The faint oval hovering above the upper left limb of the sun in this picture is known as a coronal cavity. NASA’s Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) captured this image on Aug. 9, 2007. The cavity has been the object of the study for three separate studies.

Astronomers try to predict huge solar blasts by studying coronal cavities

From time to time, the sun projects billion-ton clouds of charged particles from its scorching surface, surrounded by a solar atmosphere scientists dub corona, into space. Sometimes, these blasts hit the Earth’s magnetic field with a high potential for wrecking havoc to satellites and  communications, and in extreme cases massive electrical power surges. It’s become a sort of priority, thus, for astronomers and other scientists from around the world to study and understand how these blasts form, in order to predict and minimize the damage they might cause.

The faint oval hovering above the upper left limb of the sun in this picture is known as a coronal cavity. NASA’s Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) captured this image on Aug. 9, 2007. The cavity has been the object of the study for three separate studies.

The faint oval hovering above the upper left limb of the sun in this picture is known as a coronal cavity. NASA’s Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) captured this image on Aug. 9, 2007. The cavity has been the object of the study for three separate studies.

So far, NASA scientists’ best bet lies on the mysterious cavities in the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona. Captioned above is this sort of light bulb filament shaped occurrence. The bright structure around and above that light bulb is called a streamer, while the seemingly hollow interior is called a coronal prominence cavity. It’s believed the latter, these cavities, serve as solar launch pads for the huge clouds of hurled plasma known as coronal mass ejections or CMEs.

“We don’t really know what gets these CMEs going,” Terry Kucera, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement. “So we want to understand their structure before they even erupt, because then we might have a better clue about why it’s erupting and perhaps even get some advance warning on when they will erupt.”

And this is no easy task. Scientists have been studying one particular cavity as part of a series of paper studying its properties, the first two from 2010 and 2011 looked at the shape and density, respectively, and now the latest, published in Sep. 20 edition of The Astrophysical Journal, tackled temperature. By understanding these three aspects of the cavities scientists can better understand the space weather that can disrupt technologies near Earth. Especially during these rather gruesome times, as the sun comes near the end of its 11 year cycle in 2013, time at which CMEs will become more frequent and powerful.

Predicting a coronal mass ejection

Combined, the three studies have these so far to tell – the structure is similar to a croissant, while the inside is filled with a sort of magnetically charged tube, which is the prime driver for its shape. The cavity appears to be about 30 percent less dense than the material surrounding it, and its average temperatures range from 2.5 million to 3 million degrees Fahrenheit (1.4 million to 1.7 degrees Celsius), increasing with distance from the solar surface.

Concerning the latest study from the series, which discuss temperature, the scientists found that the temperature in cavities isn’t all that different form the rest of the matter in the corona, however its a lot more variable. Hopefully with enough data and scientific wisdom, the astronomers can crack down on the code and sequence of events that trigger a CME.

“Our point with all of these research projects into what might seem like side streets, is ultimately to figure out the physics of magnetic fields in the corona,” said Sarah Gibson, a solar scientist at the High Altitude Observatory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
“Sometimes these cavities can be stable for days and weeks, but then suddenly erupt into a CME,” added Gibson, who is a co-author on all three studies. “We want to understand how that happens. We’re accessing so much data, so it’s an exciting time — with all these observations, our understanding is coming together to form a consistent story.”

False-color image of the recently erupted, powerful X-class solar flare, whose corronal mass ejection is expected to reach Earth's magnetic field this Saturday morning. (c) NASA

Powerful solar flare headed our way set to spark beautiful Northern Lights

False-color image of the recently erupted, powerful X-class solar flare, whose corronal mass ejection is expected to reach Earth's magnetic field this Saturday morning. (c) NASA

False-color image of the recently erupted, powerful X-class solar flare, whose corronal mass ejection is expected to reach Earth’s magnetic field this Saturday morning. (c) NASA

Astronomers have surprised a blast of charged solar particles erupting from a massive solarspot, recently. The unleashed X-class solar flare is expected to reach Earth’s magnetic field on Saturday morning (2:52 p.m. EDT). Scientists warrant that there’s a chance temporary disruptions to GPS signals, radio communications and power grids might occur. Of greater interest for most of us though, is the consequent magnificent display of Northern Lights, slated to extend as far as far south as California and Alabama.

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. This recent major X-class solar flare serves as an appetizer.

[HOW aurora borealis (Northern Lights) form – VIDEO]

Superflares (white) and sunspots (dark). (c) Kyoto University

Superflares 10,000 times more powerful than those in our solar system, observed on sun-like stars

Some stars, most often during their early life, exhibit an intense and energetic behavior, much greater than that of our own sun, despite a similar size, per say. In the first survey of its kind, scientists at Kyoto University have analyzed sun flares erupting on the surface of distant stars through out our galaxy. They found that some solar flares were even 10,000 times more powerful than those shot by the sun.

Superflares (white) and sunspots (dark). (c) Kyoto University

Superflares (white) and sunspots (dark). (c) Kyoto University

Just a few days ago, I wrote a bit on how solar flares and coronal mass ejections occur, and the impacts they might have on the Earth. The biggest concern involves electrical flooding of the grid after highly charged CMEs hit the Earth, which might cause severe damage to power lines, communication and GPS satellites and just about anything electronic; even if its unplugged (!). The largest recorded solar flare event occurred on  1 September 1859, and chance had it that British astronomer Richard Carrington was observing the sun right at the eruption moment, noting a great brightness as he was drawing sunspots for his sketches. Just hours later, when the eruption finally hit Earth, telegraph lines went down and flashed sparks even though batteries were disconnected. However, this paled in oddity compared to the massive aurora borealis which extended as far as the tropic at the event! It must had been a massive sun flare indeed, but considering the first electrically light city was still at least 20 years away, beyond the big scare and slew of superstitions unleashed, the event didn’t affect the life of human society at the time.

Were the Carrington event to happen today, things would’ve been a lot different. Imagine a world thrown in complete and utter pitch black darkness. Chaos. Now, imagine an event 10,000 times more powerful.

Some, maybe even more powerful, were observed by the Japanese scientists which analyzed four months worth of data delivered by the Kepler Telescope, directed towards a certain patch in the sky. The telescope’s main role is that of studying the slight shifts in brightness of stars, which might correspond to the moment an orbiting planet is passing in front of the sun, facing the observer. When you’ve got your “eye” right on the stars, it’s a pity actually not to dwell further deep and see what goes around beyond potentially orbiting exoplanets.

The Kyoto based researchers found that out of 83,000 stars of the same type as the Sun, 148 (about 0.2%) had superflares with energies between 10 and 10,000 times greater than the Carrington event. Most of the massive sun flares occurred on star which have a short period of ration, generally just 10 days, compared to a month required by the sun to  make a complete revolution around its axis. Because these stars spin faster, they have more magnetic energy to burn, translating in more powerful eruptions.

Back to the Earth and massive solar flare hypothesis; a solar flare 10,000 times more powerful than those we’re currently experiencing nowadays would mean total annihilation of all life on Earth, instantly. The O-zone layer would simply shred to pieces, leaving way for massive amounts of radiation. But would the sun ever be capable of generating such an eruption. Scientists believe such an event is highly unlikely. All the massive solar flares were joined by giant sun spots, as well, a connection known for some time by scientists; these solar spots are a lot bigger than those usually surfaced on the sun. It still can fry all of our global electronics, though.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

 

 

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft captured this photo recently showing massive sunspot groups on the sun's surface

Huge sunspots the size of the Earth warns of potential massive solar storms

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft captured this photo recently showing massive sunspot groups on the sun's surface

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft captured this photo recently showing massive sunspot groups on the sun's surface

Astronomers have observed a huge sunspot group on the surface of the sun, sized at more than 60,000 miles across, which might outbreak in a potentially hazardous solar storm.

From time to time, the sun spews huge energy releases called solar flares, which depending on their magnitude (the weakest are “C” class and the most powerful are “X” class) can cause radio blackouts and irremediable damage to satellites. Powerful sun flares are sometimes, however, joined by coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that cause geomagnetic storms on Earth. CMEs are what cause the beautiful northern and southern lights, or auroras, but they can also inflict catastrophic events. Coronal mass ejections are caused when the magnetic field in the sun’s atmosphere gets disrupted and then the plasma, the sun’s hot ionized gas, erupts and send charged particles into space.

If the geomagnetic storm caused by the CMEs is big enough, it can cause a damaging extra electrical current to flow through the grid. Some of you might remember the 1989 Quebec incident, when the whole city was blackout after the entire grid got fried, causing an estimate $2 billion Canadian in damage at the time. Besides blackouts, CMEs can also disrupt GPS signals and radio telecommunications.

Both CMEs and sun flares most often sprout from active regions around sunspots.

AR 1476, the huge sunspot complex I’ve mentioned earlier, might just be a birthplace for havoc. Another sunspot group, albeit smaller, called AR 1471, already erupted Monday evening with a M1 flare – one of the least powerful.

“With at least four dark cores larger than Earth, AR 1476 sprawls more than 100,000 km from end to end, and makes an easy target for backyard solar telescopes,” the website Spaceweather.com reported Monday.

The sun’s activity naturally lowers and increases in its 11-year cycle – towards the end of the cycle, like it’s the case currently, the sun is most active. The current cycle, known as  Solar Cycle 24, is set to peak in 2013.

Solar flare reaches us, but wait – there’s more [shorties]

The solar flare is here! Today, Thursday, at about 5:45 a.m. Eastern time, the geomagnetic storm that arose from the surface of the Sun as a result of a massive solar flare reached our planet’s atmosphere.

So far, the storm has been quite a dud, with researchers and amateur astronomers all over the world reporting the “impact was weaker than expected,” causing only a “mild” geomagnetic storm. Still, scientists warn there might be more to come, and the storm could intensify in hours to come.

Severe magnetic storms can wreak all sorts of havoc, forcing airplanes to reroute, affecting local power grids and GPS users.

However, despite the intensity of the solar flare, which was the biggest since 2006, the magnetic storm “has had no impact on the bulk power system”, according to US authorities.

Sun fires off two huge solar flares that could impact Earth

The largest solar flare since 2006 occurred Tuesday, when a massive amount of plasma was ejected at a speed of over 4 million miles per hour, causing some significant problems on Earth, forcing planes to reroute, knocking out power grids and blacking out a number of radios.

“Super Tuesday? You bet!” joked Joseph Kunches, a space weather scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Matter of fact, there were two solar storms, both of which were ranked as X-class storms – the strongest type of solar storm possible. They came following some other weaker, but significant storms that took place on Sunday.

“Some have already taken action to reroute to ensure their [high-frequency communication],” Kunches said.

“By some measures this is the strongest one since December of 2006,” Kunches explained. Solar activity has already led to an R3 level radio blackout on NOAA’s space weather scale, he explained, a midstrength event on a scale that reaches to R5. Such effects are caused by X-ray emissions from the sun.

Geomagnetic storms typically lead to surges in power lines, issues with satellites, and affect GPS users because of the charged atmosphere; also, highly precise calculations and the high-frequency communications that airplanes rely on are affected, to the point where planes have to change their routes.

Via NASA

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.

Good news! Killer solar flares won’t destroy Earth

In a statement wrote by NASA scientists (and I can only imagine how they felt while writing it) it is revealed that if the world is going to end in 2012, the Sun won’t be to blame.

A deadly fireball

Contrary to what doomsayers and conspiracy adepts will have you believe, the Sun simply doesn’t have enough energy to hurl a fireball big enough to significantly damage our planet.

“Most importantly, however, there simply isn’t enough energy in the sun to send a killer fireball 93 million miles to destroy Earth,” NASA officials wrote in a Nov. 10 statement.

This whole thing has been blow out of proportions by the supposed Mayan calendar, which is set to expire on December 21, 2012 marking the end of a 5,126-year epoch. This has encouraged some to come out and shout that the world will end at that data, and the whole thing was crowned by ‘2012’, which has received the honour of being ‘the most absurd science fiction movie ever‘.

The ‘Sun will kill us’ theory

Of course, one of the most discussed ‘theories’ was the one with the Sun. The star around which our planet rotates is indeed nearing the peak of its 11-year activity cycle, but this peak will occur in 2013 or 2014 – and the Sun has had quite a few of these 11 year cycles in its billion years life. Countless solar peaks have come and gone, and here we are, fine and dandy.

Still, regardless of this aspect, the Sun just doesn’t have enough energy to throw something big enough at us – for now. A few billions of years from now, things will be quite different, but until then, we’re safe.

No Elenin, PlanetX, or Nibiru either

Makes perfect sense.

 

Another reason to fear was the Nibiru planet, or PlanetX, as it was called. The only problem with this idea was that PlanetX doesn’t exist. This rogue planet, an astral angel of apocalypse, is simply a figment of imagination, according to astronomers.

“There’s no evidence whatsoever for Nibiru,” Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a recent NASA video. “There’s no planet Nibiru, there’s no Planet X, and nothing is hurtling toward us.”

But the apocalypse candidates just kept shoving in; comet Elenin was also supposed to wreak havoc on our corner of space, but as we wrote a few days ago, comet Elenin made a peaceful transition past our Earth after dwindling too close to the Sun. So there you have it folks, no deadly solar flare, no comet, no rogue planet.

“I’m not going to lay in any extra supplies — no survival gear,” Yeomans said. “I’m just going to lay in an extra supply of egg nog for the coming holiday season.”

I don’t know about you, but that egg nog sounds like a good idea to me.

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