Northern lights put on a show

Strongest solar storm in 6 years triggers aurora borealis


MIAMI – The solar storm that erupted from the Sun late Sunday caused quite a show late Tuesday night in the northern latitudes with the aurora borealis, or northern lights, dancing across the sky. 

The video above was taken near the city of Tromso, in northern Norway on Tuesday where spectators braved temperatures as low as -20° F to watch.  You can see the auroras swirling in the night sky. 

The northern lights were triggered by solar plasma that was release by a coronal mass ejection on Sunday.  The plasma travelled 4 million miles per hour to reach earth on Tuesday with 13 minutes of scientist's forecast.  That ability to predict and track space weather will become even more crucial in the years ahead as the sun is currently in an active phase of its 11 year solar cycle, which is called Solar Cycle 24.  Solar activity is expected to peak in 2013. 

This was the strongest solar storm in 6 years. 

Solar storms can be strong enough to disable satellites and other electronic equipment.  Minor disruptions to spacecraft and power grids were reported this week.  In 1989, a solar storm caused a massive blackout in Quebec. 

Solar storms can also impact communications with polar traveling airplanes so several airlines rerouted flights Monday and Tuesday as a precaution. 

The northern lights are created when the solar plasma, which are highly charged particles, interact with the Earth's upper atmosphere causing an energy release that is seen as lights.  The charged solar particles are usually drawn to the Earth's poles by the planets magnetic field so the lights are most often seen far to the north and south. 

In the northern latitudes, the northern lights are called aurora borealis named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas.  In the southern hemisphere the lights are called aurora australis.