Auroras light up the sky after geomagnetic storm
Andrew Fazekas took this photo of Aurora Borealis in the sky above a Montreal suburb.
It was midnight and Andrew Fazekas was standing in his backyard in a Montreal suburb looking at the sky.
The sky was coloured with horizontal bands of ghostly green, lying low on the horizon, dancing in the sky.
“Most people were either sleeping or watching T.V. and here was this cosmic display,” says Fazekas.
Friday night’s Aurora Borealis display defied city light pollution and lit up skies across the globe. There are reports of people seeing the curtain of light all across Canada, the U.S. and Europe, according to Fazekas.
“Astronomers are saying that it was one of the strongest geomagnetic storms that they’d seen in the last few years,” says Fazekas who is a space educator and contributing writer to the National Geographic News.
His website, www.thenightskyguy.com, keeps track of all things related to the cosmos.
On a scale of 0-9, Friday night’s geomagnetic storm was so strong it was an 8.
Strong geomagnetic storms affect some critical infrastructures in powergrids and in the directional drilling for oil and gas, says Larisa Trichtchenko, research scientist with Natural Resources Canada’s space weather group. That’s why they use the NRCan's forecast of geomagnetic activity.
Though Friday night’s Aurora Borealis lights were strong, enthusiasts will probably be disappointed by tonight’s.
“The probability of seeing them again tonight is much lower than yesterday,” says Larisa Trichtchenko, research scientist with Natural Resources Canada’s space weather group.
She says the odds are stacked against our seeing the lights again because the magnetic storms that allow them to be seen already happened on Friday night.
And while there may still be some magnetic disturbances tonight, they are not as strong as magnetic storms.
The stars have to align for us to see an Aurora Borealis: the magnetic radiations emanating from the Sun have to be strong enough, they have to be directed at the Earth and the atmospheric conditions must be clear enough for us to see them.
The latest Auroras are due to a large group of sunspots on the surface of the Sun, according to Fazekas, that are generating solar flares and kicking up huge clouds of charged particles towards the Earth.
These excite the molecules on the Earth’s upper atmosphere and cause a colourful display of light.
Friday night’s lights were a result of a huge solar flare midweek which took two to three days to reach us, says Fazekas.
Despite this travel lag time, it’s not that easy for scientists to predict the next big Aurora Borealis.
“Prediction of weather is problematic, so space prediction is even harder,” says Trichtchenko. But experts can predict general trends, and they believe we can expect more auroras in the next few years.
“We are probably heading into a very strong aurora season in the fall,” says Fazekas.
The Sun’s activity follows a natural cycle and we are just heading out of a minimum, he says, so solar activity is now increasing.
“In early 2013, the Sun will reach its maximum activity,” says Fazekas. “It means we might be in for some nice auroras in the next year or two.”
- Sarah-Taïssir Bencharif, Staff Reporter