Auroras!

by Morris Yoder | Jul 1, 2024 | 0 comments

The “Superstorm”, May 10, 2024

aurora over farm fields in Georgia
Aurora borealis in Georgia on May 10, 2024. Photo © Morris Yoder.

Hundreds of millions of people gawked at the night sky while twisting, undulating curtains and pillars of multicolored light surged across it—either gawked or wish they had been. Many were stunned to see the aurora borealis for the first time. Our family was among the throng, enjoying the dancing, colorful aurora in every direction, all across our skies in Georgia. May 10, 2024, was the date, for the record.

These mysterious lights have been watched by people in the extreme North for thousands of years. They often had only quaint ideas of what caused the amazing displays. Extensive research in modern times shows that the Sun is directly responsible for these lights.

Because of its intense energy output, the Sun is continuously spewing part of itself into space. Plasma shoots thousands of miles high in the solar sky. Some of it remains suspended in spectacular arcs called prominences and filaments. After being suspended for a while, it then rains back down onto the surface in torrential downpours or is flung out into space. On average, 1.5 million tons per second of solar plasma gets hurled through space, creating a continual stream of plasma called solar wind. At times, the Sun spews vast, billion-ton clouds of plasma into space at once; these are called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). They cause powerful surges in the solar wind.

After traveling across 93 million miles of space in only a couple of days, the solar wind slams into the magnetic sphere surrounding us and gets deflected away. If the wind is strong enough, it can squeeze through cracks in Earth’s magnetosphere (Earth’s magnetic field) and dive between magnetic field lines at about 45 million miles per hour toward the Earth’s northern and southern regions. Through a cascading series of interactions between particles in the magnetosphere and upper atmosphere, the stored energy of the solar wind is absorbed by atmospheric gases and extinguished in the iridescent blaze of glory we call auroras. In the northern hemisphere they are named aurora borealis, or northern lights. In the southern hemisphere they are named aurora australis, or southern lights.

In 1859, the famous Carrington’s sunspot generated a storm which electrified Earth’s atmosphere to such an extent that telegraph operators reported being able to operate their instruments without having them plugged into a power source.

The storm of auroras that happened on May 10th was caused by coronal mass ejections that were being blasted out of a sunspot that grew as large as the diameter of fifteen Earths. It rivaled the size of Carrington’s sunspot from 1859. Northern lights were seen as far south as the Florida Keys and beyond to some of the Caribbean islands. It was categorized as a “superstorm” since northern lights were seen below 30° magnetic latitude. According to spaceweather.com, the May 10 storm was among the most widespread auroral displays of the last 500 years.

The colors of the lights are caused by the types of gases excited by the energetic particles. Green and yellow colors are caused by oxygen, while reds are often caused by nitrogen. The blending of these colors can produce vivid pinks and purples.

The lights appear as shafts or curtains of light that extend high up into the sky. The bottom of the lights are typically 60 miles up, and the tops of the lights are usually close to 200 miles up and sometimes much higher. And, of course, they draw our attention even higher still—to the mind of God that conceived this dramatic display of His glory.

aurora article

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