Dec
11
2007

Get lit up: Source of northern lights may be discovered

Streaming space light: Satellites on NASA's Themis mission have discovered what may be some of the mysteries behind the northern lights. Charged particles from the sun are blasting through magnetic fields stretching out from Earth's upper atmosphere, bursting with the energy of a medium earthquake.
Streaming space light: Satellites on NASA's Themis mission have discovered what may be some of the mysteries behind the northern lights. Charged particles from the sun are blasting through magnetic fields stretching out from Earth's upper atmosphere, bursting with the energy of a medium earthquake.Courtesy NASA
I know the source of the energy that powers the Christmas lights in my home’s windows: the outlet on my wall. No surprises there.

But today scientists announced that they have found what they believe is the energy source behind the spectacular views that make up the northern lights. NASA’s Themis mission has used five satellites to track down this magical, astronomical phenomenon.

What’s been discovered is that charged particles from the sun are flowing through space and are twisted through magnetic fields that link Earth’s upper atmosphere to the sun.

The satellites were launched last winter and on one two-hour span of time, measured the particle flows while northern lights were shimmering over Alaska and Canada in March.

If you’ve ever seen the northern lights, you know how cool and magical they can look. But you really wouldn’t want to get too close.

The same satellites measured the forces flowing through the March light show and found that the charged particles were moving around 400 miles per hour. The movement and energy release of their passing through the magnetic field was about the same as a 5.5 magnitude earthquake.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What discovery is there here? It was in 1968, in elementary school, that I learned that the auora were caused by charged particles from the Sun released their energy as light, when they interacted with the Earth's magnetic fields at at the poles. This isn't anything new. I think what we have here is extremely bad reporting by "science" reporters.

posted on Thu, 12/13/2007 - 12:34pm
Thor's picture
Thor says:

I think what is significant here is that we have actual measured data collected by the satellites that quantifies how the northern lights work. Prior to that, the workings of the northern lights were more observations.

posted on Thu, 12/13/2007 - 1:17pm

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