Northern Lights – NASA’s Prediction

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NasaNorthern lights are the talk of the day. Before we indulge into why they didn’t appear at the predicted time and when they did appear let’s take a minute to read what they actually are. Northern Lights are basically an aurora which means Sunrise or Roman goddess of dawn. This is, in essence, a light display naturally organized in the dark sky at high altitudes. Why does this occur? Because of the collision of charged particles which are quite energetic with atoms present in thermosphere.

Northern Lights 3It was being hoped that these lights will be visible on Thursday morning however that didn’t happen. However, a NASA expert speculated that the phenomenon may occur on Thursday night. Usually, these lights are not visible in United States but thanks to the solar storm which occurred on Tuesday which just might have pushed the lights a little southward allowing the people in Northern states to catch a glimpse of this beautiful natural phenomenon provided that the weather remains clear.

Joseph Minow from Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala said that the solar storm didn’t reach at the expected/predicted date due to which the lights were not visible. He also said; ‘The good news for North American observers is onset of the event is coinciding with sunset so there is a lot of time with night skies ahead of us.’

Northern Lights  2These lights which are usually visible as green lantern’s light, no pun intended – they actually are green, are caused as per Jeffrey Newmark, a solar physicist employed at NASA when ‘the (sun’s) magnetic field gets twisted up in a high-energy state and it relaxes, and that releases a tremendous amount of energy.’

The northern lights appear when atoms in the Earth’s high-altitude atmosphere collide with energetic charged particles from the sun. They usually appear as shimmering green waves of light in the nighttime sky in polar latitudes. Much more rarely, they can be red and even blue.

Northern Lights  4Coronal Mass EjectionThe solar storm’s scientific name is ‘Coronal Mass Ejection’. It causes the release of light and energy particles (quite high when it comes to amount of energy). The light obviously reaches Earth first while the high energy particles follow it with a lag of one hour. The mass ejected contains a very huge amount of hydrogen and helium ions along with protons and electrons with sun’s surface being the source.

Northern LightsPredicting the exact time when the energy wave is here is quite difficult. Joe Kunches with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo agrees to that. The flare can be spotted leaving the sun by astronauts but afterwards it is invisible until it arrives on Earth. There is only one source of warning which is thanks to the NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer satellite that is present at a distance of 1 million miles and able to record solar bombardments. Still, Kunches said; ‘as the wave passes the satellite, we have only half an hour’s warnings before it gets here.’

Although it is hard to predict, the sight still is quite magnificent and wonderful. If you are in the region, do check out the lights.