The European Space Agency (ESA) captured a video of a “violent mass of fast-moving plasma” that was spit out by the sun. This coronal mass ejection (CME) can cause interference with communications and GPS systems on Earth, but can also deliver some incredible light shows.
The short video published by the ESA, and spotted by CNET, shares a brief glimpse into a beautiful purple aurora which is more clearly visible during intense geomagnetic storms of this magnitude. According to the ESA, the Solar Storm took a few days to arrive at Earth after the initial mass of plasma was ejected into space by the sun.
Once it did, it lit up the sky and provided a brilliant multi-colored show.
The timelapse video above was created from images taken every minute during the period of intense auroral activity in the early hours of October 12 by an all-sky camera in Kiruna, Sweden which is part of ESA’s Space Weather Service Network. These cameras are fitted with a fish-eye lens to see horizon to horizon when pointed straight up in order to view as much of the sky as possible.
According to the ESA, the video is running at half-speed to highlight the intense auroral motion which starts with a mass of green swirling structures that are created when energetic particles in the solar wind collide with oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. This then gives off light in the green range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The rarely photographed purple aurora is seen later in the video and is created as energetic particles strike ionic nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere.
Scientists at the ESA say this phenomenon is not just beautiful, but vital to understanding the complex, and sometimes hazardous interactions between the Sun and Earth.
“The movement of this swirly structure in space and time is often referred to as auroral dynamics, and this is very important when studying the relationship between the ionosphere and magnetosphere, linked by lines of magnetic field,” Hannah Laurens, RHEA Space Weather Applications Scientist based at ESOC, explains. “The aurora is a manifestation of complex drivers operating in the distant magnetosphere which makes it a useful, and beautiful, tool with which to monitor space weather conditions.”
The data captured by the ESA and these cameras are used to provide timely information to anyone affected by the Sun’s outbursts like airline pilots, operators of spacecraft and power grids, or even hopeful aurora hunters.
The ESA has also stated that in 2027, it will launch a first-of-its-kind mission to monitor the sun from a unique vantage point. Studying the sun from the side, it will provide a stream of data that will warn of potentially hazardous regions before they roll into view from Earth. Details on the ESA’s investigations into space weather can be found on the organization’s website.