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Aurora: Effects of Co-rotating Interaction Regions on Earth Magnetic Field

Nuclear Mushroom

Auroras are usually produced from the effects of a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) from the sun. Strong CME's that are Earth directed can result in geomagnetic storms, however, another less known phenomenon is also capable of creating some of the most memorable Auroras: Co-rotating Interaction Regions. As explained by Professor Kenneth Lang from Tufts University, "when fast solar-wind streams, emanating from coronal holes, interact with slow streams, they can produce Co-rotating Interaction Regions in interplanetary space."

Professor Kenneth Lang: "Intense magnetic fields can be produced at the interface between the fast and slow streams in the solar wind."

Aurora Strikes Earth

The effects of Co-rotating Interaction Regions (CIR) on the Earth Magnetice Field can last many days. Several examples of Auroras from a September CIR event are displayed here.

Blue, Purple and Green Aurora

CIR producing intense Aurora colors, including a mixed pattern of green, purple and blue streaks of lights across the night sky. The blue color, which is visible on the outer edge and top of the Aurora, transitions to purple then green as the light descends towards Earth.

A Poetic Ribbon...

Strong Solar Flares in Interior Alaska

As a result of a strong solar flare, an intensely bright Aurora is visible in the dark sky in Interior Alaska.

These pictures were taken when the Kp Index was 6 or above. The Kp Index, on a scale from 0 to 9, measures the global level of geomagnetic activity. The higher the better for auroras.

Bright Northern Lights in Anchorage

It is said that viewing the Northern Lights in large cities is not very impressive due to the light pollution. While it is generally true, once in a while, the geomagnetic storm is so intense that the Aurora can give you a memorable show in the sky. This series of pictures were taken in Anchorage.

Aurora Above Sleeping Lady
Aurora Anchorage Inlet

Bright Aurora

Aurora pictures in the Anchorage area. On this night, the Northern Lights were bright in spite of the light pollution.

Aurora Anchorage

Aurora in Anchorage

Geomagnetic Storm

A sudden Geomagnetic storm sparks some bright Northern Light shows in the dark winter sky.

Aurora Ribbon
Aurora Colors

Purple, yellow and green spikes of light sweep across the sky in the middle of the night.

Bright Aurora

Bright Northern Lights

Un uptick in the Auroral activity afforded some incredible displays of Northern Lights in the new year. This time, some bright red colors were visible, even with your naked eyes.

Aurora Overhead
Aurora Colors

Bright Aurora

Lighting up the Alaskan night sky in red, purple, yellow and green colors.

Aurora Full Sky

Strong Solar Flares

Aurora activity has picked up considerably since the lows of the years past, and 2012 / 2013 were supposed to be very promising years for Aurora watchers. Although some strong solar flares hit Earth's atmosphere in February, March and April of 2012, the intensity of the solar activity did not reach the expected levels.

These pictures were taken when the Kp Index was 4 or above. The Kp Index, on a scale from 0 to 9, measures the global level of geomagnetic activity. The higher the better for auroras.

Bright Northern Lights

This time the Aurora was strong enough to light up the entire sky above us. The moon was also out, illuminating the mountain range in a distance.

Aurora Lights up the Entire Sky
Bright Aurora

Aurora Colors

Lighting up the Alaskan night sky in red, purple, yellow and green colors.

Green and Yellow Aurora

Aurora at Dawn

The Northern Light displays were active all night and until the early hours of dawn.

Auroras of the North

Tonight, the sky is cloudy and it doesn't seem to be a good night for the Northern Lights. We keep driving North, hoping to find a patch of clear sky. We're now hundreds of miles above the Arctic Circle and still, the conditions haven't improved. As the night falls, the temperature drops well below zero... Fahrenheit.

Milky Way

Star Trail

Resigned, we need to find a place to spend the night safely. In a few more miles, maybe, we'll reach a safe spot, but the darkness makes it difficult to find one. Finally, I pull over and lower the window to inspect the area. To my surprise, I realize the stars begin to pierce through the thinning clouds. This is it. That's the spot! We prepare the cameras, in anticipation for the upcoming light show. However, the excitement eventually fades as the Auroras only make a modest appearance. Then, suddenly the sky ignites in a ball of fire...

Aurora Erupts Like a Volcano

Northern Lights in South Central Alaska

During periods of high solar activity, you don't need to be in the far North to see the Northern Lights. This series of pictures was taken in Anchorage where light pollution usually drowns the Aurora Borealis. However, this time, the Northern Lights were particularily strong.

Throughout the night, the Northern Lights continued to dance across the heavens above, constantly changing shape.

This light show was the result of a strong coronal mass ejection hitting the earth's upper atmosphere.

Coronal Mass Ejection

A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) hits Earth's upper atmosphere, sparking some high intensity auroras visible in northern latitudes.

Red, Yellow & Green Aurora
White Aurora

Aurora Before Dawn

Black Hole

Aurora Above Pipeline

High Aurora Activity

During these past few months, there has been a slew of strong auroras visible at high latitudes. Sky watchers in Alaska have been delighted to witness such colorful northern lights.

After years of chasing the aurora, we can't really answer the question "when is the best time to see the aurora?".

When the aurora activity is strong, it is not uncommon for the light show to start immediately after sunset.

The intensity of the northern light is so strong that the vast landscape is illuminated in the dead of the night.

X-Flare Auroras

The March 7th 2012 X-Flare from the huge sunspot AR1429 has resulted in some amazing auroral displays in the northern skies of Alaska. The Kp index reached 7, a level not seen in a long time, when the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) hit the earth's atmosphere... The intensity of the aurora was so strong that some red, purple and yellow colors were visible.

The Northern Light could be seen directly overhead at the peak of the celestial storm.

Anchorage Aurora

The aurora activity is particularily high that night. Such strong display of light far south in the Anchorage area hasn't occured in years.

High Solar Activity

February auroral activity was strong, benefiting from a Planetary Kp Index of 4 or higher. Based on the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks, a Kp Index of 4 corresponds to an "High Auroral Activity".

The Northern Lights moved across the whole sky, covering the backdrop of stars. The extreme cold temperature in the dead of winter is brutally numbing, but there is no other place I'd rather be at this time.

Throughout the night, the Northern Lights continue to dance across the heavens above, constantly changing shape.

Taking Pictures of Aurora

Taking pictures of the Northern Lights is always a challenge, especially when the temperature dips to 30�F below zero.

When Solar Winds Hit the Earth's Magnetosphere...

Auroras occur when charged particles from the Sun strike atoms in the Earth's atmosphere. The intensity of Auroral displays on Earth is directly tied to the Sun's activity which follows an 11 year high-low cycle. Solar activity should begin to increase in 2010, with a peak expected to occur in 2012 or 2013.

>> See Auroras in Canada

Green is the most common color but during periods of intense solar flares, auroras often display shades of red, yellow or purple. An Aurora Borealis occurs in the northern hemisphere, while an Aurora Australis occurs over the south pole.

Aurora Map - Where is the Aurora Visible Now?

Click on the Aurora Map (provided by www.Spacew.com) to see where the aurora is currently visible on the Northern Hemisphere, weather permitting. The map is updated every 5 to 10 minutes, based on the latest solar wind data.

Aurora Reflection on a Lake

The winter of 2010 rewards our patience with this amazing light show in the sky. Just a moment ago, we were driving well into the night on an empty stomach, when the northern lights made their first appearance. Unfortunately, we have not yet found a good shooting location. Mile after mile, and turn after turn on this long winding road, we see the faint green glow becoming increasingly brighter through the tall trees. Panic sets in as it becomes apparent we are about to miss the show ...

Then, a road sign gives us some hope: "Lake Campground Ahead". The Aurora is not waiting for us, so we have to take this turn. We finally reach the lake at the end of the small gravel road, jump out of the truck and race to setup the equipment.

Throughout the night, the Northern Lights continue to dance across the heavens above while the reflections on the glassy lake illuminate the landscape below. We then realize what a perfect location we had found, all by an incredible stroke of luck ...

North of the Arctic Circle

some strange light shows can be witnessed for those who are brave enough to walk this inhospitable land north of the Arctic Circle, battered by high winds and gripped by subzero temperatures. Incredibly bright auroras turn the sky into a huge neon light.

Inuvik, Northwest Territories

The end of the road in Canada's Northwest Territories greets us with another great Aurora. The sky is mostly clear above the town of Inuvik, and being so far north above the Arctic Circle, the night temperature is dropping fast. However, just watching the beautiful arches of green and purple lights slowly moving across the sky warms up our spirit.

Inuvik is a quiet town at the end of the Dempster Highway. We keep taking pictures well into the night, until the Northern Lights finally fade.

Aurora in a Starry Night

We're in the middle of nowhere and the closest city lights are hundreds of miles away. It's eerily quiet ... there isn't a sound in the dead of the night. As our eyes get accustomed to the darkness, the Milky Way slowly brings the sky to life with thousands of stars flickering. Then... the Northern Lights made their appearance in this awe inspiring backdrop.

Northern Lights In the Yukon

As the road signs say in this region of Canada, "everything is bigger in the Yukon", including the Auroras. We were lucky to witness this incredibly bright Aurora which even had some pink and purple edges.

Aurora in Fairbanks

Due to its high northern latitude relatively close to the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks is a good location to see Auroras. These pictures were taken in November.

Aurora Borealis

These amazing displays of lights in the northern skies have intrigued anybody who have been lucky enough to witness their spectacle. The lights slowly move accross the sky and change shapes. Since the old times, the northern lights were named after the Roman Goddess of dawn, Aurora.

In other cultures, Eskimo legends depict auroras as spiritual manifestations. Whatever they may be, they are just incredible to watch.

Pictures of these Auroras were taken in the Fairbanks area.

Aurora Borealis

Aurora displays really do come in many shapes, but they often start as faint ribbons, gradually increasing in intensity.

At the peak of their brightness, the northern lights move visibly faster as they dance across the sky.

Another Spike in Activity

I'm always amazed at how bright they can be, especially when it's pitch black in the middle of nowhere.

Anchorage, Fairbanks & Valdez Auroras

Pictures of these Auroras were taken in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Valdez, Alaska.

Winter Light Show

More Northern Light shows in the dark winter sky.

Aurora Hits Earth
Aurora Colors

Bright Aurora

Lighting up the Alaskan night sky in red, purple, yellow and green colors.


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