Unraveling the Mysteries of Coronal Mass Ejections and Northern Lights
Coronal Mass Ejection and Solar Winds
A coronal mass ejection (CME) reached Earth recently, causing a substantial increase in particle density of the solar wind, at around 20 particles per cubic centimeter. This resulted in a significant amount of radical oxygen (O+) at approximately 200 km altitude to glow. Solar storms are responsible for ejecting particles from the sun, which then travel through space as solar wind. When the solar wind collides with Earth, the particles are deflected towards the poles by the Earth’s magnetic field. These charged particles from the sun stimulate the molecules of Earth’s atmosphere, which then emit colored light that we see as the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, and the Southern Lights, or Aurora Australis. However, witnessing these phenomena is extremely rare.
The Colorful Northern and Southern Lights
The different colors of the Northern and Southern Lights are a result of various gas molecules. The Earth’s atmosphere is primarily composed of oxygen and nitrogen. Oxygen emits red light, typically at an altitude of around 200 km. Lower in the atmosphere, at around 100 km altitude, stimulated oxygen molecules frequently encounter other particles, causing the light to turn green.
Stimulating nitrogen requires a significant amount of energy. Only very fast solar winds stimulate nitrogen at 1000 km altitude. Nitrogen emits violet light. The current solar wind is traveling at a speed of 470 km/s, containing 20 particles per cubic centimeter.
Increase in Northern Lights Over Switzerland
Switzerland experiences Northern lights on about one percent of nights statistically. However, this frequency is expected to rise over the next five years. This increase is due to the anticipated rise in the number of sunspots appearing on the solar equator, causing CMEs to head towards Earth more often.
The Future of Northern and Southern Lights
A coronal mass ejection has led to an increase in the density of the solar wind, resulting in a glow from radical oxygen at high altitudes. Over the next five years, it is expected that this phenomenon, leading to Northern and Southern Lights, will become more frequent due to increased sunspots on the solar equator. The lights’ various colors are due to the stimulation of different gas molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere.
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