Watch A Writhing Aurora in Real Time
I love me some auroras. They are the visual manifestation of an invisible force field, tongues of light that illuminate Earth’s magnetic shell, which by shielding this blue orb from the onslaught of the charged radiation known as solar wind, makes life itself possible.
As charged particles belched from the sun strike our planet’s magnetic carapace, they are diverted poleward on electromagnetic conduits and eventually thrust into the upper atmosphere at Earth’s higher latitudes. There, collisions with atmospheric molecules illuminate the sky in green and red atomic excitation spectra. Their downward orientation makes them appear like needles pushing in from space itself, or as if one was gazing upward at a flag flapping vertically in the wind.
None of that have I ever witnessed with my own eyes, because I live at far too equatorial a latitude for even the largest solar storm to deliver this show to my front door. In learning about auroras through time lapses and astrophotography, which I have done my fair share of here on It’s Okay To Be Smart, I suppose I’ve always assumed they were a slow, gradual thing to behold, moving alomst imperceptibly, but definitely moving, like the way we can watch a cloud dissipate without ever really seeing it happen.
This video of a recent aurora over Yellowknife, Canada tells a different story. It is moving in real time. Stunning work from photographer Kwon O Chul. Not every aurora moves this fast, but this video completely changes the way I look at auroras.
I’ve often thought of the auroras as Earth’s own performance art, as if the sun is thanking us nightly for the simple act of noticing. But for this private light show, it is we who should be thanking the sun.
For more beautiful aurora science check out one of the first videos I ever made for the It’s Okay To Be Smart YouTube channel: