Ever wondered how auroras, or northern lights, are born? What makes them so fascinating and unique? Well, we finally know!
Thanks to a team of physicists, we have enough proof of how one of the most brilliant auroras are created.
Here is what you need to know.
The “Recipe” For Aurora Borealis Unveiled
The team made a series of experiments at the Large Plasma Device (LPD) in UCLA’s Basic Plasma Science Facility. Their findings offer enough proof that mighty electromagnetic waves can create auroras during geomagnetic storms.
As complicated as it might sound, it’s, in fact, a wonderful event and process.
How it works
The phenomenon, dubbed “Alfven waves,” can accelerate electrons close to Earth, triggering the particles to generate the familiar atmospheric light show.
Greg Howes is the study co-author and an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Iowa. He released a statement explaining the Alfven waves:
“[…] measurements revealed this small population of electrons undergoes ‘resonant acceleration’ by the Alfven wave’s electric field, similar to a surfer catching a wave and being continually accelerated as the surfer moves along with the wave.”
This fascinating ‘surfing’ phenomenon on the electric field of a wave is also dubbed Landau damping. The team succeeded in demonstrating that the recent findings agree with the predicted signature for Landau damping.
So, the team’s work, including the simulation, modelling, and agreement of the experiment, further offers the first proof that Alfven waves can really generate accelerated electrons, creating the aurora.
Previous research showed that energized particles originating from the Sun precipitate along our planet’s magnetic field lines into the higher atmosphere. There, they merge with nitrogen and oxygen molecules, driving them into an excited state. The resulted molecules would later ‘calm down’ by emitting light, creating the most beautiful colourful hues of the aurora borealis.