Jul 17, 2019 | Updated: 10:03 AM EDT

Solar Storm Causes Aurora Across Northern Skies

Sep 17, 2014 01:03 AM EDT

Solar Storms Cause Widespread Auroras
(Photo : NASA) Solar Storms Cause Widespread Auroras

With a giant solar storm erupting just last week, causing cosmic disturbances emanating from the center of the sun, the northern skies have welcomed the arrival of aurora lights. Reaching as far south as New York, the record-breaking Coronal Mass Ejections (CME) of early last week's solar storm brought with a gust of solar wind, an illuminating spectacle of lights across the sky.

This past Wednesday Sept. 10, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory discovered that an X-Class Solar Flare, the most powerful type of solar flare, was just the first in line of a solar storm that hit our sun this week. In a rare double burst of CME, the charged solar storm raised alarm as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center issued an alert for potential disruptions in GPS and power transmissions. Though the solar storm did not cause severe disruptions at the time of the event, the high-energy fusion/fission reactions emitted a barrage of particles into space, carried by the sun's solar winds. Far enough, at least, to cause a rare form of light.

The result of collisions between particles from Earth's upper atmosphere and those carried by the sun's solar wind, "Auroras" are rare electric lights that give off hues in shades of greens, blues and red. As electrons and other particles of the solar wind stream travel through space at roughly 1 million miles per hour, when they collide with the Earth's outer atmosphere their collisions with oxygen and nitrogen molecules cause brilliant light to be emitted in the sky. And that's not even the most mystifying part.

Because the particles are charged, the lights follow the Earth's magnetic field spanning from pole to pole, and create waves of lights that illuminate the night. The auroras are well known in some regions of the world, and in 1859 it was discovered that their flow of particles actually created electricity in the night sky, which could even power telegraph machines.

Though typically only seen in the most northern and southern regions of the world, the severe solar winds caused by the powerful storm brought the auroras far out of their normal range. Though the auroras themselves can cause interference with electrical appliances, it appears that the brief show was not disruptive and was a welcomed delight. Though the first aurora arrived late Friday, NASA and the ESA are predicting that we will receive several such events this weekend, coinciding with the multiple eruptions at the center of the sun.

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