To the wonder of observers, earlier this month a solar storm cracked the earth’s electromagnetic field over Norway, revealing extremely rare pink auroras
LiveScience reports that the breach allowed highly energetic solar particles to penetrate deeper into the atmosphere than normal, triggering the unusual colored lights.
A witness to the Nov. 3 event, a northern lights tour guide, had this to say about it:
“These were the strongest pink auroras I have seen in more than a decade of leading tours,” he said. “It was a humbling experience.”
How does an aurora happen?
Auroras are formed when streams of highly energetic charged particles, known as solar wind, pass around the magnetosphere. The planet’s magnetic field protects us from cosmic radiation, but the shield is naturally weaker at the North and South poles, which enables the solar wind to skim through the atmosphere — usually between 62 and 186 miles (100 and 300 kilometers) above earth’s surface. As solar particles pass through the atmosphere, they superheat gases, which then vibrantly glow in the night sky, according to NASA and as reported by LiveScience.
According to NASA, and as reported by NDTV, if you happen to be in proximity to the North or South poles, the view could turn fantastic. Frequently there are beautiful light shows in the sky. These lights are called auroras. If you’re near the North Pole, it is called an aurora borealis — also known as the northern lights. If you’re near the South Pole, it is called an aurora australis, or the southern lights.
The auroras and the sun
Auroras are actually caused by the sun. The sun sends us more than heat and light; it sends lots of other energy and small particles to earth. The protective magnetic field around the earth shields the planet from most of the energy and particles, and they are mostly never noticed.
But as reported by NDTV, things don’t always work that way:
“But the sun doesn’t send the same amount of energy all the time. There is a constant stream of solar wind, and there are also solar storms. During one kind of solar storm called a coronal mass ejection, the sun burps out a huge bubble of electrified gas that can travel through space at high speeds.”
As the energy and small particles end up traveling down the magnetic field along the earth poles, they interact with gasses in the atmosphere, producing the light shows. Oxygen gives off green and red light. Nitrogen glows blue and purple.