Physicists describe new type of aurora

For centuries, people in the high latitudes have actually been enthralled by auroras—the northern and southern lights. Yet even after all that time, it appears the ethereal, dancing ribbons of light above Earth still hold some tricks.

In a new research study, physicists led by the University of Iowa report a new function to Earth’s climatic light program. Examining video taken almost twenty years back, the scientists describe numerous circumstances where an area of the diffuse aurora—the faint, background-like radiance accompanying the more brilliant light frequently connected with auroras—goes dark, as if scrubbed by a huge blotter. Then, after a brief duration of time, the blacked-out area all of a sudden comes back.

The scientists state the habits, which they call “diffuse auroral erasers,” has actually never ever been discussed in the clinical literature. The findings appear in the Journal of Geophysical Research Space Physics.

Auroras take place when charged particles streaming from the sun—called the solar wind—communicate with Earth’s protective magnetic bubble. Some of those particles leave and fall towards our world, and the energy launched throughout their crashes with gases in Earth’s environment create the light connected with auroras.

“The biggest thing about these erasers that we didn’t know before but know now is that they exist,” states Allison Jaynes, assistant teacher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Iowa and research study co-author. “It raises the concern: Are these a typical phenomenon that has been neglected, or are they uncommon?

“Knowing they exist means there is a process that is creating them,” Jaynes continues, “and it may be a process that we haven’t started to look at yet because we never knew they were happening until now.”

It was on March 15, 2002, that David Knudsen, a physicist at the University of Calgary, established a camera in Churchill, a town along Hudson Bay in Canada, to movie auroras. Knudsen’s group was a little discouraged; the projection required clear, dark skies—typically ideal conditions for seeing auroras—however no stunning lighting was taking place. Still, the group was utilizing a cam specifically created to catch low-level light, just like night-vision safety glasses.

Though the researchers saw just mainly darkness as they looked up with their own eyes, the video camera was getting all sorts of auroral activity, consisting of an uncommon series where locations of the diffuse aurora vanished, then returned.

Knudsen, taking a look at the video as it was being taped, doodled in his note pad, “pulsating ‘black out’ diffuse glow, which then fills in over several seconds.”

“What surprised me, and what made me write it in the notebook, is when a patch brightened and turned off, the background diffuse aurora was erased. It went away,” states Knudsen, a Fort Dodge, Iowa, local who has actually studied aurora for more than 35 years and is a co-author on the research study. “There was a hole in the diffuse aurora. And then that hole would fill back in after a half-minute or so. I had never seen something like that before.”

The note lay inactive, and the video unstudied, up until Iowa’s Jaynes commended finish trainee Riley Troyer to examine. Jaynes learnt more about Knudsen’s recording at a clinical conference in 2010 and referenced the eraser note in her doctoral thesis on diffuse aurora a couple of years later on. Now on the professors at Iowa, she wished to discover more about the phenomenon.

“I knew there was something there. I knew it was different and unique,” states Jaynes, assistant teacher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “l had some ideas how it could be analyzed, but I hadn’t done that yet. I handed it to Riley, and he went much further with it by figuring out his own way to analyze the data and produce some significant conclusions.”

Troyer, from Fairbanks, Alaska, used up the task with gusto.

“I’ve seen hundreds of auroras growing up,” states Troyer, who remains in his 3rd year of doctoral research studies at Iowa. “They’re part of my heritage, something I can study while keeping ties to where I’m from.”

Troyer developed a software application to type in on frames in the video when the faint erasers showed up. In all, he cataloged 22 eraser occasions in the two-hour recording.

“The most valuable thing we found is showing the time that it takes for the aurora to go from an eraser event (when the diffuse aurora is blotted out) to be filled or colored again,” states Troyer, who is the paper’s matching author, “and how long it takes to go from that erased state back to being diffuse aurora. Having a value on that will help with future modeling of magnetic fields.”

Jaynes states learning more about scattered auroral erasers belongs to studying DNA to comprehend the whole body.

“Particles that fall into our atmosphere from space can affect our atmospheric layers and our climate,” Jaynes states. “While particles with diffuse aurora may not be the main cause, they are smaller building blocks that can help us understand the aurora system as a whole, and may broaden our understanding how auroras happen on other planets in our solar system.”


Study co-authors are Sarah Jones, from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and who was part of Knudsen’s group in Churchill, and Trond Trondsen, with Keo Scientific Ltd., who developed the video camera that shot the diffuse aurora.

NASA supported the information analysis.

Recommended For You

About the Author: livescience

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.