Posts Tagged ‘auroras’

New Year’s Geomagnetic Storm


NEW YEAR’S GEOMAGNETIC STORM: 2016 began with an explosion–not only of fireworks, but also auroras. On Jan. 1st, a G2-class geomagnetic storm sparked bright lights around the poles as revelers around the world were ringing in the New Year. In Glenfarg, Scotland, fireworks crackled against a backdrop of green:

“Our neighbours let off some fireworks for the New Year,” says photographer Stuart Walker. “They were modest compared to the organized display in Edinburgh, but looked great alongside the ongoing aurora.”

The storm was the result of a CME strike on New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31 @ 00:30 UT). At first the CME’s impact had little effect. Indeed, we initially ruled it a “dud.” But as Earth moved deeper into the CME’s wake, solar wind conditions shifted to favor geomagnetic activity.

The very first sighting of auroras in 2016 may have come from Taichi Nakamura, across the International Date Line in Dunedin, New Zealand:

“It was a beautiful treat to see the auroras kick off the New Year,” says Nakamura. “The display began after midnight and kept glowing with waves and beams until morning twilight painted light over the aurora. It is summer now in New Zealand and my four year old son was delighted to come with me as it is warm even at night.”

Those were the first auroras of 2016. Ready for seconds? NOAA forecasters estimate a 75% chance of more polar geomagnetic storms on Jan. 1st, subsiding to 45% on Jan. 2nd as Earth moves through the wake of the CME. Aurora alerts: text or voice

Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery

GREEN COMET MEETS ORANGE STAR: On Jan. 1st, Comet Catalina had a close encounter with Arcturus in the early morning sky. Chris Schur of Payson AZ woke up before dawn to photograph the green comet beside the orange star:

“A really nice photo-op this morning, with the 6th magnitude comet nearly on top of Arcturus,” says Schur. “Fortunately, the comet’s tail pointed away from the all too brilliant star, and made for a stunning portrait.”

Arcturus is an orange giant star 37 light years from Earth. Comet Catalina is much closer, only 0.00001 light years from Earth. The comet gets its green color from the gases in its atmosphere–especially diatomic carbon (C2), which glows green when illuminated by sunlight in the near-vacuum of space.

Comet Catalina will remain in the neighborhood of Arcturus for the next couple of nights as it glides through the constellation Bootes. Observing tips and sky maps may be found in this article from Sky and Telescope.

Realtime Comet Photo Gallery 

Realtime Spaceweather Photo Gallery

Realtime Meteor Photo Gallery 

Realtime PSC Photo Gallery


Aurora Borealis Could Appear on New Years Eve


This year has been definitely full of astronomical surprises. Besides all sorts of discoveries scientists have made, we were also able to see a ‘supermoon’ in September as well as a full moon on Christmas night. And now, to top it all off and finish the year with a bang, the night sky on New Year’s Eve is expected to offer us a light show.

According to NASA on the 28th a sunspot cluster erupted. The eruption lead to an M-class flare heading towards the Earth. Given the extreme UV radiation most of the south half of our planet had a radio blackout.

However, the effects don’t end there. A CME (coronal mass ejection) is moving towards the Earth and according to NASA it should create a light spectacle on the sky. The spectacle, although we will most probably just enjoy the lights, it’s actually a geomagnetic storm.

What will happen is that the solar particles brought by the CME, which are like bubbles of plasma, will impact our atmosphere and generate auroras. If you are lucky enough to be at a higher altitude that moment, you can watch the natural cosmic ‘fireworks’ instead of the ones we’re used to.

However, scientists say it is not certain that the phenomenon will take place. Apparently, it all depends on how powerful the storm is. If it lasts long enough and comes with enough speed to hit the atmosphere, we will be able to see it.

Auroras usually appear at the poles when the solar wind sends charged particles into the upper atmosphere where ionization happens that emits light of different colors.

If we are lucky and the storm is strong enough and lasts until entering our planet’s upper atmosphere we could witness another cosmic show, the last of this year after being sure the full moon on Christmas was going to be the last sky event of the year. Hopefully, next year will bring us as much excitement as this one and we will be able to see many other spectacular cosmic events.