Did you know that auroras emit X-rays? This new image from ESA, released January 26, 2016, shows the X-ray component of an aurora caught by accident by the Integral space observatory in late 2015. The observatory was looking for something else when it acquired the images at time intervals of about 8 minutes in order to make this composite. They show intense auroral emission first visible on the side of Earth facing the observatory (roughly around east Siberia, north of Japan), and then on the opposite side.
Auroras – sometimes called the northern or southern lights – result from storms on the sun. They happen when energetic solar particles reach Earth and are drawn along our planet’s magnetic field, where collide with different molecules and atoms in Earth’s atmosphere. The collisions create the auroras. The X-rays are generated as the incoming particles decelerate, ESA said.
Erik Kuulkers, Integral project scientist, commented:
Auroras are transient, and cannot be predicted on the timeframe that satellite observations are planned, so this was certainly an unexpected observation.
Bottom line: X-ray aurora caught by ESA’s Integral space observatory on November 10, 2015 (released January 26, 2016).
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.