From Senja, Norway Adrien Mauduit of Night Lights Films captured ethereal timelapse of geomagnetic storms between September 25 – 28, 2020.
As I write Earth orbit passes through a stream of gaseous plasma erupting from a “hole” in the Sun. Solar wind rages at 610 km per second. Predicted to spew well into tomorrow, fair skies could see auroras as far south as Montana and Michigan.
Treat yourself to mesmerizing respite courtesy Adrien Mauduit. Five minutes of bliss guaranteed to soften furrowed brows, smooth jagged nerves and gawk at majesty of the cosmos.
Beaming with pride, cosmic wonder is pleased to introduce Aurora Cometalis. According to Marina Galand of Imperial College London, lead author of research published this week in Nature Astronomy., Comet 67P has auroras. Galand’s paper explaining how 67P turns jets of water into Aurora Cometalis is nothing short of remarkable. Seems Aurora Borealis has European Space Agency Rosetta Mission to thank posthumously for expanding the Borealis family tree.
While orbiting Comet 67P between 2014-2016, Rosetta captured images of odd light emissions. Astronomers scratched heads over peculiar ultraviolet light glow invisible to the human eye. 67P doesn’t have a magnetic field, glaring absence of observable green, red, purple or pinkish undulating waves never screamed “wake up people, these invisible ultraviolet bursts are auroras!”.
Galand’s team persevered. Years of combining data from Rosetta’s sensors coupled with computer models plotting interactions between solar wind and comet atmosphere concluded – auroras are real even when invisible to the human eye.
In a nutshell, naturally occurring electric fields in a comet’s atmosphere can grab electrons tossing them inward to collide with spewing water molecules. Exuberant atoms empowered by sudden molecular disruption dance with wild abandon to the tune of ultraviolet auroras.
If you could stand on Comet 67P and see UV light, Aurora Cometalis would appear as bands of diffused, uneven light punctuated by brighter bands when jets of water march across the field of view. Best of all, you’d be surrounded by light – Aurora Cometalis descend all the way down to the surface. So cool! There’s no reason why other comets can’t have auroras. Galand’s research is based on Comet 67P because Rosetta just happened to be in the neighborhood. Welcome to the cosmos Aurora Cometalis.
Natural phenomenon needn’t be mysterious. Ponder Aurora Borealis, arguably one of nature’s greatest phenomenon, least mysterious spectacles. Aurora are offspring of space weather, nothing mysterious about that. On May 11, 2020 Earth is expected to cross a fold in the heliospheric current sheet. In less mysterious language – disruption of interplanetary space separating opposing magnetic polarities of Earth and Sun, briefly over riding Earth’s magnetic field, inviting solar energy to temporarily dazzle sky watchers with aurora majesty – consider yourself schooled in solar sector boundary crossing, a space weather basic.
Solar wind is the source of space weather. Just like Earth, the Sun has a magnetic field known as interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). Whipped into spiral rotation, wind driven IMF rotates in one direction dividing into spiral sections pointing to and away from the sun along an ecliptic plane ( direct line between Earth and the Sun). The edge of this swirling mass has a surface separating polarities of planetary and solar magnetism called the heliosphere current sheet.
Earth’s magnetic field points north at the magnetopause (the point of contact between our magnetosphere and the IMF). If the IMF happens to point south at contact the field link causes partial cancellation of Earth’s magnetic field – in other words, opening a temporary door for solar energy to enter our atmosphere. Welcome solar sector boundary crossing – a phenomenon born of high solar wind and coronal mass ejections (CME’s – aka solar flares).
Enough talk, time for dazzling aurora timelapse courtesy Adrian Mauduit at Night Lights Films –
STEVE ( Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement ) might look like an aurora, but it’s not. STEVE is an atmospheric phenomenon characteristic of northern hemisphere spring and fall. The result of uppity solar wind messing with Earth’s magnetic field. Meddling which allows ribbons of super heated gas travelling at speeds exceeding 13,000 mph to create observable arcs of soft purple hues. STEVE favours latitudes between +50N and +55N. Go STEVE! Hope to meet you one day.
Stay at home orders needn’t be defined by endless hours of television or Netflix. Consider using free time to embrace space weather, specifically Aurora Borealis. Start with https://spaceweather.com/ familiarize yourself with solar wind, sunspot numbers and current auroral oval. If favourable conditions suggest uppity auroras, find yourself a Aurora Cam.
Highest resolution images ever taken of the Sun were released January 29, 2020 by astronomers at the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope. Inouye, the world’s largest solar telescope sits near the summit of Mount Haleakala on Maui. Construction began in January 2013. The distinguishing feature, a 13 foot primary mirror arrived in August, 2017. This week we have Inouye to thank for expanding solar horizons. A statement from NSF (National Science Foundation) –
“The images show a pattern of turbulent ‘boiling’ plasma that covers the entire sun. The cell-like structures – each about the size of Texas – are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface. That hot solar plasma rises in the bright centers of ‘cells,’ cools, then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection.”
I can’t watch this video without grinning from ear to ear –
Erupting solar plasma drives space weather’s engine. Solar storms impact airlines, GPS, telecommunications and the power grid. To understand solar dynamics, is to understand space weather. High resolution Inouye images are touted as the greatest leap in humanity’s ability to study the Sun since Galileo. Said Thomas Rimmele, Director of Inouye Solar Telescope –
“It’s all about the magnetic field. To unravel the sun’s biggest mysteries, we have to not only be able to clearly see these tiny structures from 93 million miles [150 million km] away but very precisely measure their magnetic field strength and direction near the surface and trace the field as it extends out into the million-degree corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun.”
As I write, streams of solar wind advance at 594.5 Km/second. Commanded by CH58+, a impressive coronal hole poised to deliver rare auroral punctuation as far south as Washington State, Idaho, Montana, Michigan and Minnesota.
Auroras happen when electrons energized by acceleration collide with Earth’s upper atmosphere. Acceleration allows energized electrons to follow Earth’s magnetic field downward to the poles. Anywhere from 80 – 500 Km above Earth’s surface, electrons collide with oxygen & nitrogen atoms, spiking the atoms’ energy. Soon after, atoms relax to their former energy state – relaxation creates light known as aurora borealis. Initially light forms an arc from horizon to horizon, within a few hours arcs twist and sway in upper atmosphere wind.
A geomagnetic storm warning issued by NOAA, Space Weather Prediction Center, forecasts G1 (minor) activity August 31, increasing to G2 (moderate) September 1st as solar wind blows Earthward at 650 Km/second.
Its been years since space weather issued public alert of aurora over Greater Vancouver. Auroras are fickle, space weather makes no promises. That said, if you find yourself away from city lights with clear skies, don’t miss an opportunity for Aurora to wrap her arms around you. Once you meet Aurora, night skies become a source of wonder.
Tonight into tomorrow, northern hemisphere sky watchers as far south as Iowa or Michigan to Washington State are on aurora alert. Auroras are caused by charged particles hitching a ride on solar wind, dark skies turn undulating curtains of mischievous colour when charged particles interact with molecules in our atmosphere. Usually, our magnetosphere acts as a planetary shield preventing geomagnetic interaction of charged particles. Every so often fast moving particles overwhelm our magnetic field, create an opening and light up night skies.
On May 12, a magnetic filament on the sun, seen here, became unstable and erupted. (NASA/SDO)
Since Monday, 3 additional solar eruptions sent fast moving charged particles our way. As a result the auroral oval (doughnut shaped ring around the pole where charged particles follow magnetic field lines, reason why far northern latitudes regularly witness geomagnetic storms), has shifted far to the south.
The northern lights as seen looking eastward from just east of Penzance, Sask., at 1:21 a.m. local time Tuesday morning. (Submitted by Notanee Bourassa)
The colour of that light depends on the kind of molecule and the altitude of the collision.
Green is the most common colour, produced when the particles collide with oxygen at an altitude of around 100 to 300 km. At about 300 to 400 km, the interaction with oxygen produces red. Pink occurs below 100 km when nitrogen atoms are struck.
Bottom line – Space Weather Prediction Centre forecasters say there’s a 75% chance of geomagnetic storm activity tonight. If your skies are clear, go outside. If she’s willing, Aurora will find you. Opportunities like this don’t come along every day.
From Adrien Mauduit at the Aurora observatory, Senja Island, Norway on March 17, 2019…
“It all started at around 10:00pm LT. Almost nothing until then when all of a sudden a big band appeared in the south. Around 10:30pm LT, a very nice show happened with some colorful and fast moving coronas.”
Adrien Mauduit is a visionary, an artist who captures the essence of Aurora in mesmerizing detail. Join me in appreciation of his vision by clicking on the link below and following Adrien Mauduit.
To the delight of Aurora watchers Earth’s magnetic field vibrates in protest of unrelenting solar wind. An Earth facing hole of monstrous proportion opened on the Sun, belching winds of 600 Km/second (that’s almost 1.2 mph ) toward our planet. Defensive vibrating twists in Earth’s magnetic field ignited powerful geomagnetic storms.
Astronomers predict intense aurora activity to continue for several days.
The current auroral oval commands the Northern Hemisphere. Anyone living under the oval owes it to themselves to look up under clear dark skies. Those lucky enough to meet Aurora, embrace her stamp of indelible wonder. She’s waiting – all you have to do is find her.