The Northern Lights are one of the world’s most wonderful natural spectacles. Thousands of fans travel to the northernmost regions of the planet every year to see the billowing sky tinged with colors. Markus Varik is a tour guide who leads aurora viewing tours and says he’s never seen anything like what happened in early November before: A huge neon pink aurora. Although it is not possible to doubt its majestic beauty, the origin of this phenomenon is actually alarming.
The science and other stuff to know
Varik was leading one of his expeditions on November 3 in Tromsø, Norway, when intense pink auroras began to appear in the sky. Quickly everyone present took out their cameras to try to capture an image of the beautiful but disconcerting episode. Varik told Live Science in an email that the phenomenon lasted just 2 minutes before the unusual pink auroras disappeared from the sky.
When charged and energetic particles from the sun strike the Earth and pass through its magnetic field, which shields us from space radiation, auroras are created. These particles, also known as the solar wind, excite and heat the atoms in the atmosphere, producing colored flashes of light.
The geographic pole should not be confused with the magnetic one since both axes of rotation are slightly inclined toward the other. The northern lights occur in the northern hemisphere, where the north pole of the magnetic field is located. They are better known than their southern sisters—the aurora australis—simply because they are visible from more accessible territories. The aurora australis is visible from inaccessible regions of Antarctica and its frigid peripheral ocean.
Auroras are typically blue-green because the solar wind penetrates the upper layer of the atmosphere (between 100 and 300 kilometers, or 62 and 186 miles, high), where oxygen is most abundant. On rare occasions, the solar wind is strong enough to penetrate deeper into the Earth’s atmosphere. This time a G-1 type solar storm caused the solar wind to reach enough energy to penetrate the atmosphere below 100 km, where nitrogen abounds. By exciting this element, brand new pink auroras were produced.
At the moment, experts are still discussing the implications of this phenomenon. The “hole” in the magnetic field that gave rise to this spectacular sight could reappear in a more intense solar storm. We are currently going through a period of high solar activity, which worries scientists since we could be in danger of suffering a radiation bath without being prepared for it.
Experts know the history of this type of phenomenon. For now, they can only continue to monitor solar and magnetic activity to correlate it with previous data so that they can explain hitherto unknown phenomena. Only then can we devise protection plans to safeguard ourselves from possible harm or plan a trip to Norway to see the dazzling symphony of colors that appears in the northern sky.