See the northern lights without leaving the house on Thursday

The Northern Lights, as seen in the sky over Alaska the night of Feb. 16, 2017, from the Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks. While skies were clear at Poker and the auroras were active, cloudy skies over downrange viewing sites prevented the launch of NASA sounding rockets carrying instruments to explore the Earth's magnetic environment and its effects on Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere.
The Northern Lights, as seen in the sky over Alaska the night of Feb. 16, 2017, from the Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks. While skies were clear at Poker and the auroras were active, cloudy skies over downrange viewing sites prevented the launch of NASA sounding rockets carrying instruments to explore the Earth's magnetic environment and its effects on Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s on my bucket list: To see the northern nights, also known as aurora borealis. Since travel is limited right now, a virtual watch party is the closest I’m going to get this year.

The Delta Planetarium Facebook page is hosting a livestream event about the northern lights at 7 p.m. Thursday. Mike Murray, astronomer and planetarium manager, will explore what causes the phenomenon and how to observe them. Time will also be given to the stories and folklore of the aurora, from Canada and Scandinavia to the southern hemisphere, where they are known as the aurora australis.

As sunspot numbers increase, solar storm activity is on the rise and that improves the chances of seeing the spectacle known as the “Aurora Borealis.”

The show will include time-lapse footage of the Aurora from various locations around the globe as well as the International Space Station. Images from local photographers will also be showcased, including views of the phenomenon known as “STEVE,” an aurora-like feature that is only now becoming understood.

“See the Northern Lights” is free and open to everyone on the Delta College Planetarium’s Facebook page. The presentation will be recorded and available on our Facebook videos page.

How the northern lights form

According to NASA, the Sun sends us more than heat and light; it sends lots of other energy and small particles our way. The protective magnetic field around Earth shields us from most of the energy and particles, and we don’t even notice them.

But the Sun doesn’t send the same amount of energy all the time. There is a constant streaming solar wind and there are also solar storms. During one kind of solar storm called a coronal mass ejection, the Sun burps out a huge bubble of electrified gas that can travel through space at high speeds.

When a solar storm comes toward us, some of the energy and small particles can travel down the magnetic field lines at the north and south poles into Earth’s atmosphere.

How the Earth's magnetic field direct energy from the sun to the north and south pole

There, the particles interact with gases in our atmosphere resulting in beautiful displays of light in the sky. Oxygen gives off green and red light. Nitrogen glows blue and purple.


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