Isn’t she a beauty?!
NASA’s GREECE mission, which will study how the curls and swirls of an aurora forms, launched early last week.
“We can’t wait to dig into the data,” said one investigator on the project.
We can’t either!
Last week, days after the sun released a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields toward Earth, the particles collided with our planet’s magnetic field. When the two smash together, they create these amazing displays in the sky.
Green is the most common auroral color, according to Northern Lights Centre.
A pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.
The above photograph, courtesy of NASA, was taken over Marquette, Mich., on May 18. Image by Amy Cherrette
This time-lapse video, taken by Chad Blakely, shows the Northern Lights over Abisko National Park in Sweden this past Monday, Nov. 28. See more of Chad’s work here.
Did you know that green is the most common color of auroras. Here’s a great aurora fact-sheet for you.
I can’t wait for the day when I actually get to see one! Have you seen an aurora? If so, share your story.
From Discovery News:
There’s a storm brewing on the sun’s surface and it could unleash its magnetic fury on Earth within the next five days.
That ominous warning comes from solar scientists at the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center who are tracking a huge group of sunspots that are slowly rotating to face our planet. As imaged by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in Friday, this is the largest group of sunspots seen on the sun since 2005. The largest sunspot is 17-times the width of the Earth.
Active region 1339 has been crackling with flare activity — for now blasting the majority of its energy away from us — but on Thursday, it showed solar astronomers what it’s capable of; erupting with the most powerful type of flare.
I wonder what these storms will bring. More auroras in unusual places? How about satellite interruption, or even worse, loss of power? Maybe nothing. Only time will tell.
If you happen to see auroras this week, take pictures and send one to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll post your pictures here on Space Oddities.
There have been a lot of ‘rare’ events happening lately. And if you ask me, there have been way too many for a person to rest easy.
Last week, the northeast was blasted by an ‘unusual’ snowstorm that left millions without power.
“Two times in the history of climate, and that goes back to the 1880s, where we’ve had accumulating snow in October, so that’s kind of remarkable … It is unusual. In fact you could even call it rare,” said Tim Morrin to The Montclair Times.
Snow piled on trees, which had yet dropped its leaves. The branches, heavy from the wet, snowy foliage, crashed into streets, snagged power lines and damaged property. Even now, seven days later, some are still living without power.
Can we all say “climate change?”
A week before the freak snowstorm, we faced another intense storm – this time, of the solar variety. A large solar storm collided with Earth two weeks ago, causing brilliant auroras to be visible in more than half of the United States, according to this Popular Science article.
Here’s why this is a bit scary. Auroras – typically found in the southern and northern hemispheres – were seen in unlikely states like New Mexico, Tennessee, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
“Sky gazers reported seeing rare deep red auroras that only occur during serious geomagnetic storms and are poorly understood,” according to the Popular Science article.
So auroras were seen in unlikely places because a “serious” solar storm was impacting Earth. Are we in for more solar storms? You betcha.
The sun is approaching a cycle of high activity called “solar maximum.” During these times, the Sun suddenly – and quite violently – releases gas, radiation, and magnetic fields called CMEs, or coronal mass ejections. A large CME has so much energy that it could power the United States for a million years, according to NASA.
When the Sun’s radiation interacts with Earth’s magnetic field, auroras occur. But beautiful colors of light aren’t the only effects of a CME. As mentioned in this Space Oddities post, a large enough CME can disrupt our satellites and cause severe power outages in towns across the nation.
This isn’t a conspiracy theory. NASA has warned that a solar storm could cause mass destruction of our power grids. It’s just a matter of time before an extremely powerful CME is released in our direction.
Take a look at this one. It’s massive enough that, according to NASA, “it can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms.”
Luckily, this storm is not directed at us. But remember, more CMEs and solar flares are coming our way. During solar maximum (expected in 2013), the Sun releases about three CMEs a day.
Besides auroras, disruption or destruction of satellites, and power outages, can CMEs cause a natural disaster here on Earth? Some believe that there’s a strong correlation between the massive radiation blasts and earthquakes on our rocky planet.
This writer believes a CME could be responsible for the massive earthquake that hit Japan in March. This person agrees. And this person writes about instances where an earthquake followed a CME. It is hard to ignore that there could be a correlation between the two. Admittedly, there have been a lot of earthquakes this year. But not enough to absolutely say that a large CME will cause an earthquake here on Earth.
But wait, wasn’t there a ‘rare’ earthquake in the Northeast this past August? Oh yes. That Aug. 23 quake began in Virginia and went all the way up to Canada. I felt it in my office in Montclair, N.J. After some research, I found that there was a solar wind/aurora alert during that time frame. But no CME. However, it still doesn’t make that earthquake any less odd. It was the strongest in Virginia in 114 years and since then, there have been more than 600 aftershocks in that state, according to this article.
So what does it all mean?
We’ve experienced stronger, unusually-timed storms (remember Hurricane Irene in August?), more powerful and oddly-located earthquakes, and intense solar storms that keep getting stronger with every blast.
I can’t help but ask, “Is it the beginning of the end?” Or am I watching way too much news?