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Solar storm causes dazzling aurora display

A large solar storm, owing to a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) from the sun, caused a dazzling display of Aurora Borealis on Tuesday evening throughout the high and mid latitudes. More commonly known as the Northern Lights, the phenomenal display was one of the best in recent memory — with the color along the horizon visible as far south as Pennsylvania and parts of Long Island. Thousands ran to their cameras and took incredible long-exposure shots of the colors, which danced throughout the northern sky as a result of the aforementioned geomagnetic storm.

The aurora is visible as a result of energized solar particles flying toward Earth from the sun. When they reach Earth, the Earths magnetic field and atmosphere react. These energized particles “excite” atoms and molecules — causing them to light up and create the amazing colors we see. Yes, this is a “bare minimum” explanation, but we’ll keep things simple for now. The solar storm on Tuesday was quite strong — one of the strongest in recent memory with direct impacts on earth. The kP index, used to measure the impacts of these storms on Earth, rose to 8 for a prolonged period of time — which is quite anomalous. Typically, values of 7 or higher are required for our area to see visible aurora.

Unfortunately, the worst of the solar storm came during the mid afternoon. This meant that by the time optimal viewing conditions were available, after 10pm, the solar storm was waning. The kP index had fallen to between 5.5 and 7 — meaning the aurora was still visible but wasn’t widespread. Additionally, it was retreating by that time as well. So, while we may have struck out in our best chance to see the Northern Lights in many years, others didn’t. We’ve compiled some of the best pictures from New England, Canada, Europe, and the Arctic — including some from Long Island (!) — below, for your viewing pleasure.

For those of us in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut hoping to see the aurora…we’ll just have to wait for the next time the sun gets angry again. Who knows when that will be.

Treadwell, NY (Nick Utter)

Treadwell, NY (Nick Utter)

Treadwell, NY (Nick Utter)

Treadwell, NY (Nick Utter)

Treadwell, NY (Nick Utter)

Treadwell, NY (Nick Utter)

Long Island (Melanie Favilla)

Long Island (Melanie Favilla)

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