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| Earth on Oct 09, 2012

Photos from friends: Beautiful auroras on October 8-9, 2012

CME that left sun on October 4, 2012 interacted with Earth’s magnetic field, causing beautiful displays of the aurora, or northern lights, on night of October 8-9.

Earth received a glancing blow from a coronal mass ejection (CME) this week, which created beautiful auroras, or northern lights, seen across northerly latitudes last night (October 8-9, 2012).

Aurora, or northern lights, seen on the night of October 8-9, 2012 by EarthSky Facebook friend Colin Chatfield in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. See more photos on Colin’s Facebook page.

EarthSky Facebook friend Colin Chatfield observed the auroral display from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He wrote:

They started off very brilliant, but died down quickly. They appeared again, but not as bright as earlier. However, they were still nice. It was windy and clouded over quickly, so the show didn’t last too long.

View from space: Aurora stretching across Quebec and Ontario on October 8

Another shot of the October 8-9, 2012 auroras by EarthSky Facebook friend Colin Chatfield in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. See more photos on Colin’s Facebook page.

The solar eruption that sent the CME hurtling toward Earth – ultimately causing last night’s display – happened late Thursday according to clocks in the U.S. (October 4, 2012). NASA said:

Not to be confused with a solar flare, which is a burst of light and radiation, CMEs are a phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and can reach Earth one to three days later. Experimental NASA research models show the CME to be traveling at about 400 miles per second.

In contrast, Earth moves around the sun at about 18 miles per second.

Aurora of October 8-9, 2012 via EarthSky Facebook friend Brett Chang in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Thank you, Brett.

Aurora of October 8-9, 2012 as photographed by our friend Paul Nilsen in Norway. Thank you, Paul.

There is no danger to people on Earth from a passing CME, although these vast streams of charged particles from the sun can affect our technologies, for example, satellites in Earth orbit. Meanwhile, as the charged solar particles strike atoms and molecules in Earth’s atmosphere, they excite those atoms, causing them to light up. Those at northerly latitudes see the result as beautiful displays northern lights.

EarthSky Facebook friend Migizi Gichigumi also caught the October 8-9, 2012 auroral display over Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands.

EarthSky Facebook friend Susan Jensen in Odessa, Washington caught last night’s auroras, too. Thanks Susan! She took this at 12:34 a.m. PDT on October 9, 2012.

Another shot of the October 8-9, 2012 aurora from Susan Jensen in Odessa, Washington. The bright object to the right of the aurora (right side of photo) is a planet, Jupiter. The V-shaped pattern to the right of Jupiter is known as the Face of the Bull in the constellation Taurus. You can also see the three Belt stars of the constellation Orion, ascending into the sky, at the lower right of the photo.

The colors in the aurora were a source of awe and mystery throughout human history. But science says that different gases in Earth’s atmosphere give off different colors when they are excited. Oxygen gives off the green color of the aurora. Nitrogen causes blue or red colors.

Auroral arc over the Solway Firth from Whitehaven NW England – night of October 8-9, 2012 – as photographed by EarthSky Facebook friend Adrian Srand.

Aurora, or northern lights, seen over Forfar, Scotland by EarthSky Facebook friend Fay Vincent on the night of October 8-9, 2012. Thank you, Fay!

Bottom line: A coronal mass ejection or CME that left the sun on October 4, 2012 has interacted with Earth’s magnetic field, causing beautiful displays of the aurora, or northern lights, seen by many across northerly latitudes on the night of October 8-9.

What causes the aurora borealis or northern lights?

Are solar storms dangerous to us?