Solar flares are spectacular for sun watchers, who scan the surface of the nearest star for hints of massive, gaseous explosions. But this weekend, the effects of a recent bout of solar weather were visible long after the sun went down. Australia and New Zealand have been enjoying a particularly beautiful display of southern lights.
If the phenomenon makes you think of the elusive, shimmering lights often visible in chilly northern climes like Scandinavia, you’re not far off: Aurora Australis, as it is known, is the Southern Hemisphere’s version of Aurora Borealis. This series of lights was triggered by the same coronal mass ejection (CME) that has caused the Northern Lights to expand as far south as England and Michigan in recent days.
According to SpaceWeatherLive, the light show was caused by an M-class solar flare—a medium-large burp of gas on the sun that can cause solar radiation storms. Flares such as the one observed on December 17 can cause solar wind to reach Earth’s upper atmosphere. Earth’s magnetic field interacts with charged particles in the solar wind, causing the atmosphere to glow in brilliant colors.
Jealous of the mesmerizing display the Australians experienced this weekend? The solar storm isn’t done yet: SpaceWeatherLive notes that visible aurorae may extend as far as Portland and Lincoln, Nebraska tonight. Click here for an up-to-date aurora forecast from NOAA and the National Weather Service.
(h/t The Guardian)