Postcard from Norway: the Sky Shimmers With Green Fire Following Two Gargantuan Explosions on the Sun

By Tom Yulsman | September 13, 2014 6:08 pm
Sun

The aurora borealis shimmers above the Arctic Cathedral in Tromsø, Norway on September 12, 2014. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

You may have heard about the massive flares and explosions that erupted from the sun this week. These photos show what happened when the blasts hit Earth: spectacular displays of the aurora borealis, or northern lights.

I’ve been traveling in Norway this week, and when I heard about the solar activity and the aurora forecast I borrowed a tripod from a friend here in Tromsø and raced out the door with my wife to take some photos. The images I captured show what happens when Earth’s magnetic field is bombarded by material coming from the Sun.

The photograph above shows the aurora borealis glimmering above Tromsø’s arresting Arctic Cathedral on Friday, September 12, 2014. Light from the city and the moon made the sky a bit bright, which helped to dim some of the detail in the aurora. Moreover, the sky was obscured by some cloudiness — and the clouds were light up by the streetlights below, which explains their somewhat strange coloring.

Sun

The skies above Mount Stor­stei­nen, Norway, glowed green with the northern lights on September 12th, 2014. (Photo: ©Tom Yulsman)

In the image above, the aurora casts a green glow over Mount Storsteinen overlooking the city of Norway. The illuminated structure at the top of the mountain is a station for a cable car that runs to the top.

This week saw not one but a series of two massive eruptions from the Sun. On Monday, a flare of intense radiation was followed by a gargantuan explosion of particles and magnetic fields from the solar atmosphere, a phenomenon known as a coronal mass ejection. A second round followed on Wednesday, and it was this CME that was responsible for the northern lights seen in my photographs.

The video above, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, shows Wednesday’s flare. It was classified as an X-class eruption, which is the strongest of three categories of solar flares.

Sun

A coronal mass ejection, or CME, associated with a Sept. 10, 2014, X1.6 flare is visible in this image from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft, jointly operated by the European Space Agency and NASA. (Source: ESA&NASA/SOHO)

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft, known as SOHO, captured this image of the coronal mass ejection that followed Wednesday’s solar flare. This CME launched billions of tons of magnetized plasma toward Earth. When it arrived, it triggered a geomagnetic storm — a disturbance to Earth’s protective magnetic field — resulting in the dazzling displays of the northern lights that I’ve been lucky enough to witness here in Norway.

In the image above, the bright sun is blocked out to allow SOHO to actually see the explosion of plasma from the Sun’s corona toward Earth. It’s that whitish stuff flowing outward.

I’m hoping that on Sunday, Sept. 14th, I’ll get one more chance to witness the aurora. Fingers crossed…

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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