A solar storm rips a hole in Earth’s magnetosphere, causing extremely rare pink auroras
A burst of extremely rare pink auroras recently lit up the night sky over Norway after a solar storm hit the Earth and made a hole in the planet’s magnetic field. The breakthrough allowed high-energy solar particles to penetrate deeper into the atmosphere than usual, triggering the unusual colored lights.
The stunning light show was spotted on November 3 by a tour group led by Markus Varik, a aurora borealis tourist guide from Greenland Tourist Company (opens in new tab) based near Tromsø in Norway. The vibrant auroras appeared around 6 p.m. local time and lasted about 2 minutes, Varik told Live Science in an email.
“These were the strongest pink auroras I’ve seen in over a decade of touring,” Varik said. “It was a humbling experience.”
The pink auroras appeared shortly after a small crack – invisible – appeared in the magnetosphere magnetic field surrounding the Earth generated by the liquid metal core of the planet. Scientists discovered a breakthrough after the smaller class G-1 solar storm hit Earth on November 3, according to Spaceweather.com (opens in new tab).
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Auroras occur when streams of highly energetic charged particles, known as the solar wind, pass around the magnetosphere. The planet’s magnetic field shields us from cosmic radiation, but the shield is naturally weaker at the north and south poles, allowing the solar wind to pass through the atmosphere — typically between 62 and 186 miles (100 and 300 kilometers) above Earth’s surface. As solar particles pass through the atmosphere, they superheat the gases, which then glow brightly in the night sky, according to NASA (opens in new tab).
Auroras most often appear green because oxygen atoms, which are abundant in the part of the atmosphere normally reached by the solar wind, emit that hue when excited. However, during a recent solar storm, a crack in Earth’s magnetosphere allowed the solar wind to penetrate below 62 miles, where nitrogen is the most abundant gas, according to Spaceweather.com. As a result, the auroras gave off a neon pink glow as the supercharged particles shattered mostly into nitrogen atoms.
A rift in Earth’s magnetosphere also helped generate strong green auroras throughout the night, Varrick said.
The magnetospheric hole closed about 6 hours after it first opened. During this time, a strange band of blue light also appeared in the sky over Sweden, where it hung motionless in the sky for about 30 minutes, according to Spaceweather.com (opens in new tab).
However, experts are not sure if this unusual phenomenon was an unprecedented type of aurora caused by a compromised magnetosphere or the result of something else. One expert suggested the streak could have been composed of frozen fuel from a Russian rocket, but no rockets were spotted in the area, Spaceweather.com reports.
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