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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

INTENSE Aurora Display Over Sweden!

By Phil Plait

Astrophotographer Göran Strand was out on the night of Aug. 26 in Östersund, Sweden, when the sky erupted in auroral flames! He caught the whole thing in both time-lapse and real-time video, and it’s stunning.

Wow! Aurorae are formed when subatomic particles from the Sun are funneled down into our atmosphere by the Earth’s magnetic field. They zip down into our air, energizing atoms and molecules, causing them to glow. Each particle makes a more-or-less vertical line of glow, and huge streams of them make thin sheets of emission.

When we see these sheets edge on they can look like arcs, when seen from the side they look wider. When they’re directly overhead they fan out, creating what’s called a “corona” (you can see that starting at about 1:30 into the video).

I’ve written a FAQ about aurorae with links to how they form, why they have colors, and more.

And I had to laugh: At about 2:10, did you see the giant goblin face flashing pink and green?

I love stuff like that!

Strand is an amazing sky photographer, and I’ve featured his work many, many times here. Go check it out.

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