Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Aurora Borealis Was Widespread Last Night. Did You See Any Of It

The International Space Station caught this
view of the Northern Lights last night.  
A large geomagnetic storm from the sun set off incredible displays of aurora borealis across much of the Northern Hemisphere, and parts of the Southern Hemisphere, both Monday night and especially last night.

Monday night, much of New Zealand was treated to the spectacle.

Last night, much of Northern Europe, including Britain, and North America, including pretty much all of the parts of Canada that had clear skies, and much of the northern United States got the great sky show.

The view of the Northern Lights from Yellowknife, Northwest
Territory, Canada last night. By Yuichi Takasaki  
This was probably the most intense electromagnetic storm in the past several years, even stronger than the one last September that also caused spectacular shows.

As notes, these geomagnetic storms, outbursts from the sun really, send lots of charged particles which bombard the Earth's upper atmosphere if the sun's outburst is aimed at us.

This causes electrons in the upper atmophere to go into a higher energy state.

When the electons get over this excitement and revert back to their lower energy, they release a photon, otherwise known as light.  

Saginaw, Minnesota last night. Photo by Mark Tarello
via Twitter @mark_tarello.  
Of course, there are zillions of electrons up there, so when a whole bunch of them get together and release those electrons, you get the type of aurora borealis a lot of people saw last night.

If these space storms are super intense, the can disrupt power grids on Earth. In fact some scientists say a really bad one could cut electrical power to much of the Globe for weeks or months.

Imagine how disruptive that would be.

Nothing that bad has happened yet in modern times.

Sweden last night. Via Twitter, @AndersJilden. 
But an intense geomagnetic storm cut electrical power to pretty much the entire Canadian province of Quebec in March, 1989 for 12 hours. There have been smaller scale power outages in the United States caused by this.

This geomagnetic storm wasn't intense enough to screw up power grids. But it did give us quite a show.

Here in Vermont, it was kind of cloudy, but there were occasional clear moments. I saw a kind of a green, flickering haze near the northwest horizon as I took the dogs outside at around 4 a.m. today.

And there are nice photos and videos coming in from people who were watching the sky from on or near Lake Champlain.

Malletts Bay, Colchester, Vermont. Photo by
Dan Russell.  
It's hard to say whether there will be another show tonight, but the geomagnetic storm has peaked, so a display as widespread as last night's is unlikely.

I've also got a couple videos, below to show what happened last night.

The first is a largely unedited series of time lapse images of the aurora over southern Saskatchewan, Canada:

Another time lapse, this one by Dan Russell o Northern Lights Now, over Malletts Bay, Lake Champlain, Colchester, Vermont:

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