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Auroras or the Northern Lights

By: redagainPatti , 3:25 PM GMT on July 17, 2012

How do auroras come to be in our night skies? And do auroras even happen on the other planets in our universe?

First, if a planet or moon has an atmosphere and is bombarded by energetic particles, it will have an aurora. Jupiter and Saturn have auroras much like ours in the shape of oval shaped crowns of light on both poles. The magnetic field around the planet or moon shapes the auroras and where they show up. On the planet Neptune, the magnetic field of a planet is not aligned with the rotational axis so the lights show up near the equator.
Aurora on the planet Saturn

Now for that other question -How do auroras appear in the night skies? I am going to explain this moving first from our skies to the space around our sun..

The colorful, rapidly varying glow is cause by the collision of charged particles in the magnetosphere with the atoms in the Earth's upper atmosphere. There's always some aurora at some place on Earth, most often seen at high latitudes and enhanced during the geomagnetic storms created by the CME. The "enhancement" can cause the big light show events of the auroras. A light show so big that in 1958, Mexico saw the lights in the Northern sky. This big event happens when a CME (coronal mass ejection) hits the Earth's magnetic field and much like a light dimmer switch, turns the glow to the high setting.

A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona or being released into space by a solar flare.

A solar flare is an explosion on the Sun that happens when energy stored in twisted magnetic fields (usually above sunspots) is suddenly released. Flares produce a burst of radiation across the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to x-rays and gamma-rays.

Scientists classify solar flares according to their x-ray brightness in the wavelength range 1 to 8 Angstroms. There are 3 categories: X-class flares are big; they are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. M-class flares are medium-sized; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth's polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. Compared to X- and M-class events, C-class flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth.

When a coronal mass ejection (CME) from X- and M- class flare is expected to crash into Earth's magnetic field, the auroras will grow in the night skies at both ends of our earth. The below maps show the CURRENT locations where the ring of the action or the extent and position of the auroral oval at each pole
If one is standing in under the light blue shade around the yellow/red rings, you would see some of the "Northern Lights" along the edge of the night sky over you. So if you are under the ring of the yellow and red, you will be in the best place to view the action.

Our sun runs in something like eleven year cycles of solar activity of when we will see flares ejected from the Sun. The activity can happen at any time but the solar flares are more common at the peak and for about three years after this peak. Currently this year, 2012, we are just now heading into the peak time. Therefore the action or radiation storm of July 14 and 15 might just be a start of some fun time watching the night skies.

Will I be able to see this? Do I live too far south in the USA?

During very large auroral events, the aurora may be seen throughout the US and Europe, but these events are rare. During an extreme event in 1958, aurora was reported to be seen from Mexico City. During average activity levels, auroral displays will be overhead at high northern or southern latitudes. Places like Fairbanks, Alaska, Dawson City, Yukon, Yellowknife, NWT, Gillam, Manitoba, the southern tip of Greenland, Reykjavik, Iceland, Tromso, Norway, and the northern coast of Siberia have a good chance to have the aurora overhead. In North Dakota, Michigan, Quebec, and central Scandinavia, you might be able to see aurora on the northern horizon when activity picks up a little. On the southern hemisphere the aurora has to be fairly active before it can be seen from places other than Antarctica.
HOWEVER, the event of July 14 and 15 was a good one with folks in Ozark, AR, USA catching some of the show. This gives me hope that I might see one from Mississippi.

Brian Emfinger shared this information and his photos:
There was a very faint red glow off and on most of the night but around 2am CDT it began increasing. Around 3am and 330am there were pretty good outburst. The red was naked eye visible at times after 2am but the outburst that included some tall columns was much more visible with the naked eye. Canon T2i

Pretty cool Brian Emfinger and thank you for sharing your photos online. I believe the white light to the far left was from a nearby town. Too bad most of us live where we have little truly dark skies.

The Earth's magnetic field is still reverberating from the CME strike of July 14th. The web site, spaceweather.com reported," This morning, July 17th, at 1:00 am CDT, Shawn Malone witnessed one of the aftershocks over Lake Superior:

"My dog hates lightning and awoke me at 1am," says Malone. "I caught a double light show: an isolated thunderstorm moving across Lake Superior plus the bright glow of the Northern Lights above the clouds, awesome!"

Now finally from Chris Ratzlaff, shared on Flickr - Aurora, planetary alignment and noctilucent clouds in one shot!
Auroral Storm - July 14/15, 2012

Truly a special time and what a wonderful catch! I will be on the lookout for more special photos.

For the visitors to this little blog, should you have any questions or comments, please post below or email me here. I will do my best to address them.

UpDate! INCOMING CME, WEAK IMPACT EXPECTED: A coronal mass ejection (CME) produced by Saturday's M6-class flare is heading toward Earth. According to analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab, the cloud could deliver a glancing blow to our planet's magnetic field on July 31st around 1500 UT (+/- 7 hours).

This is a slow-moving CME. The cloud's low speed (382 km/s estimated) combined with its glancing trajectory suggests a weak impact is in the offing. Nevertheless, polar geomagnetic storms are possible when the cloud arrives.

The CME will also hit Mercury, probably with greater force. Mercury's planetary magnetic field is only ~10% as strong as Earth's, so Mercury is not well protected from CMEs. When the clouds hit, they can actually scour atoms off Mercury's surface, adding material to Mercury's super-thin atmosphere and comet-like tail.

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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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18. Proserpina
1:25 AM GMT on August 11, 2012
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
17. Proserpina
10:53 AM GMT on August 01, 2012

Hi, you sure do have a lot of family supporting to do. I am sorry, I had no idea that your son had passed away. May he RIP, and may you find comfort in good memories.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
15. redagainPatti
3:27 AM GMT on July 31, 2012
Thanks for dropping by.. I am ok. Off from the house to drive my mom, two hours over to my great, great Aunt and check on a great Uncle. Then we will do the flowers at the graveyard up in Somerville, Tenn.
So we are ok. Just busy as I am just a driver and extra eyes these days for the even older members of my family... mainly making sure we all dont get too hot.
I will be back home Friday.. in time to fuss at few folks down here in Starkville, MS and the lack of care in the graveyard down here.. The darn nuts down here took the fence down which lets the wandering dogs in to poop about the place. I just got finish earlier today cleaning the grounds at my son's grave.
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14. Proserpina
1:50 PM GMT on July 29, 2012

Have not seen you lately, are you ok? I hope so.
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13. BriarCraft
12:04 AM GMT on July 24, 2012
A very interesting and informative blog. And you compiled some very nice aurora shots. My favorite is the double light show on Lake Superior.

I see your goal in camping was to bring rain to a dry section of the state. Makes me think of my dad, who calls himself Joe Dark Cloud. Rain follows him everywhere. Took him to see Death Valley once, in May -- cool and rainy while we were there, with temporary lakes all around.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
12. redagainPatti
4:17 PM GMT on July 23, 2012
I made it back home... lost half of my keys for a while.. got way too hot on the first day..had to relearned how to take care of myself. But would still rate the camping trip as a B ... the heat made it hard and I was not fully prepare for it. We had rain all around us but none right over our heads. Big storms came rolling right by and the rangers asked us to move at one point to shelter.
I might be getting too old to camp out in a tent.. will have to look into moving to a class B or C .. maybe.. something small..
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
11. Proserpina
3:23 PM GMT on July 22, 2012
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10. GardenGrrl
4:38 PM GMT on July 21, 2012
This is a great blog. Have to bump it to the top past all the robo-trolls that seem to have taken over WUville lately.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
9. hurricanecrab
9:38 PM GMT on July 20, 2012

Great to see you my friend!! Been too long.

Happy camping! I hope you brought your handy-dandy critter deflector. :D
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8. LowerCal
2:13 PM GMT on July 20, 2012
Quoting redagainPatti:
Dear Darlings, Today I am off to camp just north of Oxford and south of Holly Springs in the state of Mississippi .. and see if I can trigger some rain while I am off camping in that area. They have been in the dry area of Mississippi for the most part..Might even wash my car too..
Thanks in advance for your sacrifices. LOL
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
7. redagainPatti
10:26 AM GMT on July 20, 2012
Dear Darlings, Today I am off to camp just north of Oxford and south of Holly Springs in the state of Mississippi .. and see if I can trigger some rain while I am off camping in that area. They have been in the dry area of Mississippi for the most part..Might even wash my car too..
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
6. GardenGrrl
11:51 PM GMT on July 19, 2012
Cool, thanks :)
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5. redagainPatti
10:52 PM GMT on July 19, 2012
I have found some more information about seeing the auroras in the southern part of the USA. Maybe I should not wish for a large one as those big ones can cause trouble... from a page linked here

March 13, 1989 - The Quebec Blackout Storm - Astronomers were busily tracking "Active Region 5395" on the Sun when suddenly it disgorged a massive cloud of superheated gas on March 10, 1989. Three days later, and seemingly unrelated to the solar paroxicism, people around the world saw a spectacular Northern Lights display. Most newspapers that reported this event considered the spectacular aurora to be the most newsworthy aspect of the storm. Seen as far south as Florida and Cuba, the vast majority of people in the Northern Hemisphere had never seen such a spectacle in recent memory. At 2:45 AM on March 13, electrical ground currents created by the magnetic storm found their way into the power grid of the Hydro-Quebec Power Authority. Giant capacitors tried to regulate these currents but failed within a few seconds as automatic protective systems took them off-line one by one. Suddenly, the entire 9,500 megawatt output from Hydro-Quebec's La Grande Hydroelectric Complex found itself without proper regulation. Power swings tripped the supply lines from the 2000 megawatt Churchill Falls generation complex, and 18 seconds later, the entire Quebec power grid collapsed. Six million people were affected as they woke to find no electricity to see them through a cold Quebec wintry night. People were trapped in darkened office buildings and elevators, stumbling around to find their way out. Traffic lights stopped working, Engineers from the major North American power companies were worried too. Some would later conclude that this could easily have been a $6 billion catastrophe affecting most US East Coast cities. All that prevented the cascade from affecting the United States were a few dozen capacitors on the Allegheny Network. -

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4. redagainPatti
6:06 PM GMT on July 18, 2012
Thank you dear... I enjoyed the light sliding around the trees.
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3. Proserpina
2:32 PM GMT on July 18, 2012
I wish that I could add to your beautiful collection of aurora photos, but I can't. So I am bringing you a photo of this morning's sunrise as seen from my doorway.


Have a wonderful day.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
2. redagainPatti
10:13 PM GMT on July 17, 2012
Thank you LowerCal
If we get another big one from the sun... I might just have to take a road trip on to Canada.
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1. LowerCal
9:41 PM GMT on July 17, 2012
Very nice compilation of photos and info.
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About redagainPatti

The nick, redagain is short for the words - "Redwoods again". It stands for a goal to sleep again in a tent under the Redwood Trees in northern Ca.

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we still have color and leaves down here in Mississippi.

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