Aurora are colorful lights in the night time sky primarily appearing in Earth's polar regions. But what causes them? The culprit behind aurora is our own Sun and the solar plasma that is ejected during a magnetic event like a flare or a coronal mass ejection. This plasma travels outward along with the solar wind and when it encounters Earth's magnetic field, it travels down the field lines that connect at the poles. Atoms in the plasma interacts with atoms in Earth's upper atmosphere.
Lately, the International Space Station has been flying through geomagnetic storms, giving astronauts an close-up view of the aurora borealis just outside their windows. These videos were taken by the crew of Expedition 30 on board the International Space Station. First, get an introduction into the beauty of aurorae. 1st Segment: The sequence of shots was taken March 3, 2012 from 17:59:48 to 18:16:25 GMT, on a pass from eastern Kenya, near the Indian Ocean, to the South Indian Ocean, east of the Kerguelen Islands. This video begins as the ISS travels southeast from eastern Africa over the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The first land we see is that of the Mauritius and Reunion Islands east of Madagascar. The pass continues over the Indian Ocean, where there are heavy clouds blocking the view of the water. Finally, the Aurora Australis begins to appear, as well as a faded view of the Milky Way. 2nd Segment: The sequence of shots was taken March 4, 2012 from 17:19:17 to 17:27:10 GMT, on a pass over the South Indian Ocean. This video again focuses on the Aurora Australis as the ISS passes over the South Indian Ocean, from northeast of the Kerugelen Islands to south of Australia. The streaks of the aurora are very visible and active in this video, as the ISS passes right over the green lights. 3rd Segment: The sequence of shots was taken March 10, 2012 from 14:49:58 to 15:05:37 GMT, on a pass from the South Indian Ocean to southeast New Zealand. This video mainly focuses on the Aurora Australis over the Southern Hemisphere. As the ISS traveled southeast and then northeast, the crew captured the bands of the Aurora Australis as the Milky Way made an appearance in the star field. Credit: NASA ISS/JSC/Science@NASA
The Chinese New Year certainly started with a bang this morning. At approx. 04:00 UT a strong and long duration M8.7-class solar flare exploded from Active Region 1402. NASA SDO captured this event and thanks to ESA/NASA SOHO and NASA STEREO Behind spacecrafts, we have also learned of a very quick moving Coronal Mass Ejection. The CME is traveling at approx. 2,200 km per second and the Goddard Space Weather Lab predicts the arrival of this CME on earth to be January 24, 2012 at approx. 14:18 UT (+/- 7 hours). It also shows that Mars will get hit too, several hours after Earth. These kinds of events can cause problems for spacecrafts in geosynchronous, polar and other orbits passing could be affected by the cloud's arrival. In addition, strong geomagnetic storms are possible, so high-latitude sky watchers should be alert for Aurorae. Credit: NASA SDO