Sun storm promises Northern light show extravaganza

NASA SDO satellite captures Sun storm

harvard shot of sun storm
Astronomers are predicting that a huge Sun storm over the weekend will produce a spectacular Northern Lights, or aurorae show in the night sky this week for many areas that do not normally seem them.

According to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Aurorae usually are visible only at high latitudes but large geomagnetic storms such as the one that just occurred can light up the sky at lower latitudes. Sky watchers in the northern US and other countries should look toward the north on the evening of August 3rd/4th for rippling "curtains" of green and red light, the group stated.

NASA telescopes watch cosmic violence, mysteries unravel

The astronomers said the Sun's surface erupted and blasted tons of plasma (ionized atoms) into interplanetary space on Sunday. The eruption, known as a coronal mass ejection, came  from sunspot 1092, astronomers stated.  At about the same time, an enormous magnetic filament stretching across the sun's northern hemisphere erupted. NASA's sun-watching Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite caught the burst.   

According to astronomers, when a coronal mass ejection reaches Earth, it interacts with the planet's magnetic field, potentially creating a geomagnetic storm. Solar particles stream down the field lines toward Earth's poles and those particles collide with atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere, which then glow like miniature neon signs, the astronomers stated.

"This eruption is directed right at us, " said astronomer Leon Golub of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "It's the first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time."

According to Golub the Sun goes through a regular activity cycle about 11 years long on average. The last solar maximum occurred in 2001. Its latest minimum was particularly weak and long lasting. This eruption is one of the first signs that the Sun is waking up and heading toward another maximum.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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