A Journey into the Phenomenon of Auroras

Exploring the Science, Splendor, and Impact of Nature’s Celestial Light Show

Source: https://www.snexplores.org/article/lets-learn-about-auroras

Auroras, often referred to as the Northern and Southern Lights, are mesmerizing natural light displays predominantly seen in the polar regions. They occur when charged particles from the Sun, primarily electrons and protons, collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, such as oxygen and nitrogen. These collisions emit light of varying colors, creating the spectacular auroral displays.

The mechanism behind auroras involves the interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and solar wind. Solar wind, consisting of charged particles, streams out from the Sun into space. When this solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere, the region surrounding the planet influenced by its magnetic field, it creates disturbances. Some of these particles are channeled towards the polar regions by the Earth’s magnetic field lines.


As these charged particles, mainly electrons, collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, particularly oxygen and nitrogen, they transfer their energy to the atmospheric atoms and molecules. When these excited atoms and molecules return to their lower energy states, they emit light, producing the auroras.

Source: Kansas, Missouri, Photo by: KSHB 41 Weather


Solar activity, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), can significantly influence the intensity and frequency of auroras. Solar flares are sudden releases of energy on the Sun’s surface, while CMEs are massive eruptions of solar plasma and magnetic field into space. When these events occur, they can release a surge of charged particles into space, enhancing the solar wind and its interaction with the Earth’s magnetosphere. This can lead to more intense and widespread auroral displays, sometimes visible at lower latitudes than usual.

Additionally, the Sun goes through an 11-year solar cycle, during which its activity fluctuates. During periods of high solar activity, such as solar maximum, auroras tend to be more frequent and intense due to increased solar wind and occurrences of solar flares and CMEs. Conversely, during solar minimum, auroras may be less common and less vibrant. However, auroras can still occur during solar minimum, especially in regions closer to the poles.


Two potent solar flares erupted from the Sun, reaching their peak intensities at 9:23 p.m. ET on May 10, 2024, and 7:44 a.m. ET on May 11, 2024. These remarkable events were captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which monitors the Sun continuously. Solar flares are immense bursts of energy capable of impacting various Earth systems, including radio communications, electric power grids, navigation signals, and spacecraft operations, posing potential risks to both technology and astronauts.

The flares are classified as X5.8 and X1.5-class flares, respectively, with the “X” denoting the most extreme flares and the accompanying number providing additional insight into their strength.

Source: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the two solar flares on May 10 and May 11, 2024. The image shows a subset of extreme ultraviolet light that highlights the extremely hot material in flares created from a mixture of SDO’s AIA 193, 171 and 131 channels. Credit: NASA/SDO


To understand the potential effects of such space weather events on Earth, it’s recommended to visit NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (https://spaceweather.gov/), the official U.S. government source for space weather forecasts, watches, warnings, and alerts. NASA plays a crucial role in the nation’s space weather efforts by conducting continuous observations of the Sun and our surrounding space environment. Through a fleet of spacecraft dedicated to studying the Sun’s activity, solar atmosphere, and the particles and magnetic fields in space around Earth, NASA provides invaluable insights into the dynamics of space weather.

Some spectacular images of auroras seen in 2024:

Some spectualar images of auroras seen in 2024:

Source: The northern lights illuminate the night sky over a camper’s tent north of San Francisco in Middletown, California on May 11, 2024. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Source: The Aurora borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights, lights up the sky in Manning Park, British Columbia, Canada on May 11, 2024. Photo: Andrew Chin/Getty Images

Source: Unusual sun activity created a G5 Geostorm on Earth sparked an Aurora borealis in Mount Mitchell, North Carolina on May 10, 2024. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu via Getty Images

Aurora lights in India: What caused them to be visible even from Ladakh?

Heightened solar flare activity recently lit up the skies of Ladakh with stunning auroras. Solar physicists from the Centre of Excellence in Space Science India (IISER Kolkata) reported that at least four intense solar storms hit Earth between Friday and Saturday, triggered by Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) from the active sunspot region AR13664 on May 8.

These CMEs, traveling at 700 km/second, reached Earth’s atmosphere on May 10 and 11, dramatically disturbing space weather. Solar flares, moving at 815 km/second, also impacted Earth, causing the storms’ intensity to spike well above average. As a result, vivid red, violet, and blue auroras appeared, visible even from lower-latitude regions like Ladakh. The spectacle was also seen across parts of the US and the UK, making this a truly global light show.

Stable Aurora Red Arc Event captured at the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve in Ladakh. (Credit: Stanzin Norlha, Wangchuk Namgyal and Stanzin Norboo at the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve)


In conclusion, the recent occurrence of two powerful solar flares, as observed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, highlights the dynamic interplay between the Sun and Earth’s magnetosphere, which is instrumental in shaping celestial phenomena such as auroras. The mechanism behind auroras, driven by charged particles interacting with Earth’s upper atmosphere, underscores the intricate relationship between solar activity and the mesmerizing light displays witnessed in the polar regions.