Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) are the most beautiful result of the Earth protecting us from a horrible death by solar radiation. Every time I see it, I marvel in the beauty and remind myself that I am still safe from being cooked by that giant ball of gas that is responsible for fundamentally fuelling all life on Earth. So when we have a lot of auroral activity, I pop over to spaceweather to see if it will be visible from where I live. Though it usually isn’t, today’s aurora are potentially visible, so I might get out to see them!
The above image is exactly why I need to visit Alaska, or anywhere else close to the Arctic circle. The reason we are seeing Aurorae right now is that a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) arrived at Earth at about 4:30 UT on March 17th, triggering a G3 Geomagnetic Storm. If you follow the link, you’ll see that for an observer in Toronto, we need at least a G2 storm to see anything, so it’s possible to still see Aurorae this evening. The problem is that light pollution from the city outshines a lot of the best views, so drive away and find a nice dark spot.
Aurorae occur because of the Earth’s magnetic field. It funnels the charged particles to the poles where the dangerous radiation ionizes gasses in the upper atmosphere, producing colourful glowing veils. Aurorae are visible in only the farthest northern and southern latitudes, but are definitely worth a trip.
So if you live in the right places, or just feel like an adventure, get out and see some aurorae! Bring a camera too, because it’s often much easier to spot them with a short timed exposure. Have fun!