A rare geomagnetic storm created some of the most stunning, vivid and expansive Aurora Borealis displays ever seen on Tuesday and Wednesday, and astronauts aboard the International Space Station undoubtedly had the best view.
— NASA (@NASA) March 17, 2015
The Aurora, which stretched across the Northern Hemisphere as far as Pennsylvania Tuesday night, was the result of the largest solar storm of this solar cycle after two solar flares erupted from the sun Sunday. The resulting Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) — a burst electromagnetic radiation of highly charged material — struck the Earth’s magnetosphere earlier than expected, causing a rare, intense geomagnetic storm.
“Approximately every 11 years, the sun waxes and wanes in magnetic activity, culminating in solar maximum, when the solar magnetic field is so stressed that flares and CMEs are commonplace,” News Discovery explains. “Although the sun is currently declining in activity from maximum that was predicted to have peaked in 2013, it goes to show that Solar Cycle 24 hasn’t finished with us quite yet.”
The Auroras are caused by collisions of gaseous particles in Earth’s atmosphere and the charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. The collision forces electrons in the atoms to move to a higher-energy state, and when they drop back to a lower energy state, they release photons, or light.
“The auroras were insane. I have never seen anything like this,” photographer Marketa Murray told Spaceweather.com Tuesday.
Scientists warn the storm that gave many a special Northern Lights Saint Patrick’s Day treat could cause radio and GPS disruption problems until it becomes less severe.