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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Time Lapse: “Radiance”

By Phil Plait

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time at all, I really shouldn’t need to do any urging to get you to watch a gorgeous time-lapse video of aurorae.

So, here:

Breathtaking. There is something particularly striking about the luminescent purple and green aurorae together that demands my attention. And the ending! Lightning storm with aurorae! Wow.

The photography is by Shawn Malone of Lake Superior Photo. Funny; I lived in Michigan for three years and never saw an aurora. But maybe the lights of Ann Arbor are too bright.

As for the aurora itself, they’re caused when the Sun floods interplanetary space with subatomic particles in the solar wind. These are channeled down into or atmosphere by Earth’s magnetic field, causing the air to glow depending on what atom or molecule is energized by the event.

I have a page full of links to explanations about aurorae if you want to learn more. And you should; I find it very pleasing that such interesting scientific phenomena can produce such displays of utter, pure beauty. When I see something like this—sheets of glowing filaments, flickering colors, draping waves of light—I want to know why. And when I find out, the depth of my appreciation grows.

As Carl Sagan said:

It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But … it does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.

I think Sagan could have gone farther. I would have added, “… and in fact, it enhances its majesty greatly.”

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