Auroras may be one of nature’s beauties — but the solar storms that create them are beasts that could overload every electronic device on the Earth, an expert warns.
Juan Carlos Casado snapped a beautiful aurora that lit up the night sky of Iceland in a swirl of green.
The image, which shows the aurora reflected in Thingvallavatn Lake, was selected as a NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day.
Although the solar storms that generate aurora are usually harmless, a large enough one hitting earth could have catastrophic effects.
One such storm recorded back in 1859 knocked out telegraph networks globally, causing telegraph pylons to spark and giving operators painful electric shocks.
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Auroras may be one of nature’s beauties — but the solar storms that create them are beasts that could overload every electronic device on the Earth. Juan Carlos Casado snapped a beautiful aurora that lit up the night sky of Iceland in a swirl of green back in 2016 (pictured)
The ribbon-like light displays of the aurora borealis and australis – commonly known as the Northern and Southern Lights – are caused when energetic particles blowing in the solar wind from the Sun breach the Earth’s magnetic shield.
Once in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, these incoming particles collide with gases, heating up and emitting light.
The light show in Mr Casado’s photograph was captured in the sky above Thingvallavatn Lake, in Iceland, back in 2016.
The lake itself lies on top of a geological fault that separate Earth’s Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
Although aurora are usually harmless, a strong enough gust of solar wind hitting the Earth could have devastating effects — including bringing down power and communication networks.
‘Admire the beauty but fear the beast,’ Mr Casado, from Spain, said in his picture caption.
‘The beauty is the aurora overhead, here taking the form of great green spiral, seen between picturesque clouds with the bright Moon to the side and stars in the background.
‘The beast is the wave of charged particles that creates the aurora but might, one day, impair civilisation.’
The image, which shows the aurora reflected in Thingvallavatn Lake, was selected as a NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day. Although the solar storms (pictured) that generate aurora are usually harmless, a large enough one hitting earth could have catastrophic effects
WHAT ARE AURORAS AND WHAT TRIGGERS THE STUNNING NATURAL DISPLAYS?
The Northern and Southern Lights are natural light spectacles triggered in our atmosphere that are also known as the ‘Auroras’.
There are two types of Aurora – Aurora Borealis, which means ‘dawn of the north’, and Aurora Australis, ‘dawn of the south.’
The displays light up when electrically charged particles from the sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
There are two types of Aurora – Aurora Borealis (file photo), which means ‘dawn of the north’, and Aurora Australis, ‘dawn of the south.’ The displays light up when electrically charged particles from the sun enter the Earth’s atmosphere
Usually the particles, sometimes referred to as a solar storm, are deflected by Earth’s magnetic field.
But during stronger storms they enter the atmosphere and collide with gas particles, including hydrogen and helium.
These collisions emit light. Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are common.
One dangerously strong wavefront struck the Earth in recorded history, causing the solar storm of 1859.
The storm originated from a coronal mass ejection, a pulse of charged particles and magnetic disturbances that followed a solar flare.
The episode was preceded by prominent auroras seen across the globe, with the northern lights appearing as far south as the Caribbean.
In the northeastern US, the light shows were reportedly so bright that one could read a newspaper by them at night.
The solar storm compressed the Earth’s magnetic field so violently that it induced electric currents in telegraph wires.
Across Europe and North America, telegraph systems failed, with their pylons throwing sparks and many telegraph operators receiving electric shocks.
Some operators were able to carry on sending and receiving messages even after disconnecting their power supplies, so great were the induced electric currents.
The episode is also referred to as ‘the Carrington Event’, after one of the English astronomers, Richard Carrington, who first detected the solar flare.
Experts believe that a relatively direct path from the Sun to the Earth might have been cleared by the previous coronal mass ejection.
A solar storm of similar intensity took place in 2012, but passed by the Earth’s orbit without striking our planet.
Were a Carrington-level storm to hit the Earth today, experts believe that such would cause unprecedented levels of damage to electronic devices and power grids across the globe.
HOW IS THE SOLAR WIND FORMED?
The sun and its atmosphere are made of plasma – a mix of positively and negatively charged particles which have separated at extremely high temperatures, that both carries and travels along magnetic field lines.
Material from the corona streams out into space, filling the solar system with the solar wind.
But scientists found that as the plasma travels further away from the sun, things change.
The sun begins to lose magnetic control, forming the boundary that defines the outer corona – the very edge of the sun.
The breakup of the rays is similar to the way water shoots out from a squirt gun.
First, the water is a smooth and unified stream, but it eventually breaks up into droplets, then smaller drops and eventually a fine, misty spray.
A recent Nasa study captured the plasma at the same stage where a stream of water gradually disintegrates into droplets.
If charged particles from solar winds hit Earth’s magnectic field, this can cause problems for satellite and communication equipment.