Wed. Feb 28th, 2024
New Satellite View Captures Stunning Auroral Glow

A recent satellite image has provided a mesmerizing perspective on the aurora borealis, or northern lights. While traditional photographs capture the vibrant bands of color dancing across the night sky, this new view presents the aurora in a different light.

The image was taken by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite. It depicts the aurora borealis over western Canada on November 5, 2023, at 5:23 a.m. EST. What sets this image apart is the use of a spectral region called the Day Night Band (DNB), which enables the VIIRS instrument to detect low-light emissions. By capturing the visible light emitted by the aurora, the image showcases the breathtaking phenomenon in grayscale.

Auroras are mesmerizing ribbons of light that grace the night skies, originating from a strong geomagnetic storm in Earth’s magnetosphere. This particular display was fueled by multiple coronal mass ejections from the sun, propelling charged particles towards our planet. Upon colliding with Earth’s magnetosphere, these particles become trapped in its magnetic field and are subsequently accelerated into the upper atmosphere. As they interact with molecules of nitrogen and oxygen, photons of light are released, creating the awe-inspiring aurora.

While the auroras often appear as luminous green bands, they can also manifest in an array of colors including red, blue, violet, pink, and white. These dazzling light shows are typically observed in high-latitude regions near the Arctic (known as the northern lights) and the Antarctic (known as the southern lights).

Scientists have predicted an increase in solar activity this year, suggesting that skywatchers may have the opportunity to witness more frequent aurora displays. As we enter the 25th solar cycle, which corresponds to a period of heightened magnetic field activity lasting about 11 years, forecasts indicate the solar maximum will occur from January to October 2024, according to the NOAA.

If you are planning to embark on some skywatching adventures, be sure to consult our guide on where to see the northern lights this year. Additionally, if you are fortunate enough to spot an aurora, consider participating in the citizen science project called Aurorasaurus. By verifying and reporting your sightings, you can contribute valuable data to further study these captivating celestial phenomena and enhance space weather models.

FAQs:

1. What is the aurora borealis?
The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, is a mesmerizing display of ribbons of light in the night sky. It is caused by charged particles from the sun colliding with Earth’s magnetosphere and releasing photons of light.

2. How was the recent satellite image of the aurora borealis captured?
The image was taken by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on the NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite. It used a spectral region called the Day Night Band (DNB) to detect low-light emissions and showcased the aurora in grayscale.

3. What fuels the aurora borealis?
The aurora borealis is fueled by multiple coronal mass ejections from the sun, propelling charged particles towards Earth. Upon colliding with Earth’s magnetosphere, these particles become trapped in its magnetic field and are accelerated into the upper atmosphere, creating the aurora.

4. What colors can the aurora borealis appear in?
While the aurora borealis often appears as luminous green bands, it can also manifest in a range of colors including red, blue, violet, pink, and white.

5. Where can the aurora borealis be observed?
The aurora borealis is typically observed in high-latitude regions near the Arctic. It can also be seen near the Antarctic, where it is known as the southern lights.

6. Are there expectations for increased aurora activity this year?
Scientists have predicted an increase in solar activity this year, suggesting that skywatchers may have the opportunity to witness more frequent aurora displays. The 25th solar cycle, which corresponds to heightened magnetic field activity, is expected to occur from January to October 2024.

Definitions:

Aurora borealis: Also known as the northern lights, it is a natural light display in the Earth’s sky, primarily seen in high-latitude regions near the Arctic.

Geomagnetic storm: A temporary disturbance of the Earth’s magnetosphere, caused by solar wind and magnetic field interactions, leading to phenomena like the aurora borealis.

Coronal mass ejections: Expulsions of plasma and magnetic field from the solar corona into space, often associated with solar flares and solar storms. They can trigger geomagnetic storms when they interact with Earth’s magnetosphere.

Related Links:
National Geographic: Auroras – The Dance of the Northern Lights
Aurorasaurus