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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DANCING COLORS AT NIGHT

The biggest solar storm in six years just reached Planet Earth. Watch a clip of the resultant Aurora Borealis (photo above by Maurice Nicholson, Shetland) from an AP posting.  However, the article itself was not scientifically correct.

These Northern Lights (photo to the left from the Canadian Tourism Commission) are not caused by solar flares, where the X- and UV-rays reach our planet in 8 minutes.  Something called a coronal mass ejection (CME), a burst of solar wind, does, and it takes a little more than four days to reach us, but this time could be significantly reduced under certain circumstances.   Solar wind is a stream of plasma (charged particles).  Thus, if you keep up with solar storms and such, you would have enough time to get to personally see this phenomenon.  Go to the NASA Space Weather Prediction Center to track our Sun activity.  These colorful lights can occur at any time of the year, and are dependent on the severity of the CME.  The effect is maximized by the lack of a shining moon and absence of clouds, for these plasmas collide with our atmosphere from 350 to 50 miles up.

Yes, there, too, are Southern Lights.  In fact, they occur at the same time (left, from The Moyne Gazette) in the latitudes indicated to the right.  


Where can you go to see these dancing lights?  Alaska, Canada, Iceland (photo above), Scotland and Scandinavia are easily accessible, but if you have a quick Antarctic connection, there, too.  The southern edges of New Zealand, Australia, Argentina and Chile are also possible.  Amazingly enough this recent atmospheric wonder was actually seen as far south as Mississippi!  The photo on the left was taken by Jeremy Myers in Tennessee.  

Colors?  Oxygen atoms provide red and green, while Nitrogen molecules give off blue and violet.  Oxygen molecules also participate.  Red is the rarest of these hues, which makes me turn skeptical about that photo above, for the photographer said he took it when he came home from work.  Was this a sunset?

There is a movie entitled Aurora Borealis, starring Joshua Jackson, Donald Sutherland and Juliette Lewis.  The audience gave it a 40% approval rating in Rotten Tomatoes.

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The Dow Jones Industrials rose 83 to 12,759, with world markets also mostly up.  Gold jumped $43/toz to $1710, while the WTI Cushing is at $99/barrel and Dated Brent Spot at $110/barrel.

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There are now two storms in the Indian Ocean.  The one I mentioned a few days ago, Tropical Cyclone Funso, has strengtthened to 140 MPH, but continues to churn south between Africa and Madagascar into cooler waters, and should dissipate before making any landfall.

A new cyclone should gain hurricane strength in a few days and possibly strike the northwest portion of Australia

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