Aurora Seen From Airplane After Strong Geomagnetic Storm Smashed Into Earth
Spectacular footage of the shimmering Northern Lights (aurora borealis) has been captured from an airplane after Earth was hit by energetic solar material over the weekend.
On April 10, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) announced that it had observed strong geomagnetic storms at around 1 a.m. ET that morning.
The storm was described as G3-strength according to the G-scale used by the SWPC to measure the strength of geomagnetic storms. The scale runs from G1 at the weakest to G5 at the most extreme.
That morning the SWPC warned that the storm could cause a range of phenomena including: voltage irregularities in power systems; increased drag on spacecraft in low Earth orbit; intermittent problems in satellite navigation systems and radios; and aurora in states such as Pennsylvania, Iowa, and Oregon.
As luck would have it, Spencer Dant, a storm chaser, was traveling from Anchorage, Alaska to Denver that day and was treated to a view of the aurora outside of his plane window, a video of which can be seen at the top of this article.
"Pillars, brightening swirls, coronas, all of the above over the barren Alaska Range and icefields," he wrote in a caption alongside the video on Twitter.
Auroras are caused when charged particles from the sun interact with Earth's atmosphere. In particular, they tend to occur when the sun releases what is known as a coronal mass ejection (CME)—a cloud of plasma and magnetic field from the sun's atmosphere.
When this solar material reaches the Earth, our planet is largely protected thanks to its own magnetic field. But the field is shaped so that some of the energy is directed down the magnetic field lines and towards the north and south poles.
At these regions, the particles interact with gases in the atmosphere, releasing the beautiful displays of light with which the auroras are associated.
CMEs are more common at some times than at others depending on how active the sun is. The sun goes through an 11-year cycle of activity as measured by the number of its sunspots—areas where the sun's magnetic field is strongest.
Currently, the sun is in the increasingly active stage of its solar cycle, meaning we can expect more CMEs for some time.
The aurora seen this weekend took place less than two weeks after another strong geomagnetic storm also caused the shimmering lights to appear in a number of states. A number of people took to social media to post videos and photos of the phenomenon.