(Phys.org) – During the night 4-5. October 2012 The mass of energetic particles in the solar atmosphere was ejected into space, a phenomenon known as coronal mass ejection. Three days later, a solar storm stirred a magnetic field around you and produced stunning northern lights. NASA satellites track such storms from their origins to crossing interplanetary space to their arrival in Earth’s atmosphere.
The Finnish National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Finland NPP) satellite received this image of Aurora borealis early on the morning of October 8, 2012 using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) “day-night band” (DNB). In the picture, the northern lights extend across the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, Canada, and are part of the northern lights that expanded to mid-latitudes due to a geomagnetic storm.
The DNB sensor detects dim light signals such as northern lights, air glow, gas flares, city lights and reflected moonlight. In the case of the image above, the sensor detected visible light emissions when energetic particles rained from the earth’s magnetosphere into the gases of the upper atmosphere. The images are similar to those collected by the Operational Linescan System, which have been flown by U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites over the past three decades.
Northern lights typically occur when solar eruptions and coronal mass eruptions – or even an active solar wind current – interfere with and distort the magnetosphere, a space enclosure protected by the Earth’s magnetic field. The collision of solar particles and pressure into the magnetosphere of our planet accelerates particles trapped in space around the earth (such as radiation zones). These particles are sent to collide with the Earth’s upper atmosphere – at an altitude of 100 to 400 kilometers – where they excite oxygen and nitrogen molecules and release photons of light. The result is rays, sheets and dance light curtains in the sky.
Northern lights are a beautiful expression of the connection between the sun and the earth, but not all connections are benign. Northern lights are associated with geomagnetic storms, which can distort radio communications (especially high frequencies), disrupt the earth’s electrical systems, and provide low but detectable doses of radiation to aircraft crew and passengers at high latitudes and spacecraft.
Images like VIIRS and DMSP have the advantage of accuracy, says space physicist Patrick Newell of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “You can see very fine details in the northern lights because of the low height and high resolution of the camera,” he said. Most Northern Lights scientists prefer to use images from Northern Lights research missions (such as Polar, IMAGE, and terrestrial imaging devices) that can provide much more images of a storm (rather than one in orbit) and allow scientists to calculate the energy moving through the atmosphere. There are currently no science satellites flying that provide such a view, although astronauts regularly photograph and photograph northern lights from the International Space Station.
Science behind the northern lights
Quotation: Finnish nuclear power plant satellite sees northern lights over North America (2012, October 10) retrieved on October 29, 2021 at https://phys.org/news/2012-10-english-npp-satellite-auroras-north.html
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