Stories tagged northern lights

A major eruption on the Sun on June 7 sent high-energy particles spewing into space. They are expected to reach Earth on the night of Wednesday June 8 (Minnesota time). Astronomers are predicting a major aurora event, with the Northern Lights visible overhead as far south as Milwaukee, and possibly visible on the northern horizon as far south a southern Indiana and Washington DC! For Buzzers in the northern US / southern Canada, if the sky is clear tonight, go out, find a dark place away from city lights, face north and look up. No telescopes or other fancy equipment needed. You can even try to photograph them (use a long exposure, no flash, and set the camera on something steady.) If you get any photos, post them here in the comments.

For more info, and up-to-the-minute predictions, visit the Aurora Forecast page.

Jul
01
2008

Good lookin', bad soundin': Radiowaves that get caught up in the Northern Lights are creating some annoying noises that zap out into space.
Good lookin', bad soundin': Radiowaves that get caught up in the Northern Lights are creating some annoying noises that zap out into space.Courtesy NASA
No wonder aliens want to attack the Earth with such regularity in the movies. From out in space, we sound pretty annoying, like that renter in the apartment above you who insists on playing Yoko Ono records at 2:30 in the morning.

You laugh, but new recordings from space show that Earth, our home, makes an array of nasty sounds that ring out across the universe.

Scientists have actually known about this phenomenon since the 1970s. But today we have some audio evidence of this annoying noise. So what’s happening?

There’s a bunch of radiation created high above our planet. Solar winds blow it into Earth’s magnetic field and then things start to get loud. Basically, this radiation gets sucked into the same conditions that cause the Northern Lights. While they look great, they sound horrible – sorta like Brittney Spears.

Earth’s ionosphere keeps the radio waves created in this action from coming down toward us, which is a good thing. That’s because they’re about 10,000 times stronger than any radio signals we have on our planet.

Satellites from the European Space Agency's Cluster mission, however, have now detected strong beams of these annoying radio waves out in space.

Click here to hear a sample of what this space noise sounds like. Personally, I think I’ve experienced this sound, much quieter, after eating a bad burrito.

Dec
11
2007

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.

Jan
15
2007

The northern lights, or aurora borealis, are caused when particles streaming from the Sun strike the Earth's atmosphere. Solar activity is very difficult to predict -- you often get only one or two day's notice between the eruption of a solar storm and the aurora.

But Charles Deehr, Professor of Physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has noticed a couple of recent "coronal holes" on the Sun that have been more stable than usual. Assuming these stay active, they could lead to aurora activity on the following dates:

Jan 15-22
Jan 29-Feb 6
Feb 12-19
Feb 25-Mar 2
Mar 11-18
Mar 24-30.

Deehr categorizes these events as "moderately active," meaning they may not be visible from the United States (or only the very northernmost part, above the 45th parallel). But if you're planning a trip to Canada or Alska during these times, look to the sky around midnight and tell us what you see.

Dec
15
2006

Aurora, 12/14/06: Photo by Eugene Dillenburg.
Aurora, 12/14/06: Photo by Eugene Dillenburg.

Did anybody see the northern lights this week? I went out Thursday night, and it was awesome!

I headed out about 11:00 pm EST. Temps in the mid-40s -- not bad for mid-Michigan in mid-December! I walked a couple of blocks to a park near my apartment which I knew had a big field surrounded by trees, and no lights. On my way, I could see the sky glowing a pale green, as if the lights of the city were reflecting off a low cloud. Only, there were no clouds last night, and there's nothing but farmland north of Lansing.

Northern lights?

by Liza on Dec. 12th, 2006

Aurora borealis: (Photo courtesy Sami Koykka)
Aurora borealis: (Photo courtesy Sami Koykka)

A friend passed along an E-mail from Parke W. Kunkle, President of the Minnesota Planetarium Society:

"Hi, all.
This email contains information about potential aurora for the next few days....

There's a big active region now on sun. Watch its progress.

Normally I'd watch it on [the NASA site], but that instrument is down for routine maintenance until Tuesday.

I think there is a good chance for northern lights the next couple of nights. Just go outside and look north.
If you are being a winter weenie and don't want to go out, check the auroral map.

To learn about space weather, try the Exploratorium site.

Or see ongoing information."

Oct
19
2006

Aurora borealis: over Edinburgh in 2004.Courtesy piglicker
Aurora borealis: over Edinburgh in 2004.
Courtesy piglicker

The aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, are caused by high-energy particles streaming from the Sun collide with molecules high in the Earth’s atmosphere. The Sun has been pretty active of late, and scientists at the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks are predicting another aurora peak for the night of the 19th, perhaps lasting through the night of the 20th. The aurora may be visible throughout Canada and the northern tier of states in the US, as well as Russia, Scandinavia, New Zealand and Tasmania.

Check their website for hourly forecasts , and for general information on auroras.

If you see the aurora, let us know! Post a comment with your location and the time you saw it (or didn’t see it), and we’ll try to produce an aurora map.

Aug
17
2006

Aurora watch: Photo by Craig M. Groshek, via Wikipedia
Aurora watch: Photo by Craig M. Groshek, via Wikipedia

Here it comes

Sunspot 904 erupted yesterday, Aug.16. A lot of astronomers were watching as it happened. See pictures 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Aurora watch alert

A coronal mass ejection (CME, movie) is heading toward Earth and could spark a geomagnetic storm when it arrives on August 18th or 19th. The cloud was hurled into space yesterday by a C3-class explosion in the magnetic field of sunspot 904. Sky watchers, prepare for auroras.

Watch for Northern Lights Friday and Saturday night.
Source; SpaceWeather