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You probably didn't feel a thing, but the earth suffered an major impact yesterday. A mass of solar particles called a coronal mass ejection sent our magnetic field reverberating, treating northerners with a specatcular light show we call the Northern Lights. Events such as these are fascinating, illustrating he immense power of the solar system.
The relative calm of the solar system is suddenly disrupted by a catostrophic event on the surface of the sun. Explosions, not yet fully understood, send out tremendous amounts of solar particles from the surface of the sun streaming toward the earth at speeds beyond any spacecraft we've been able to invent.
Radiation from the ejection arrives on the earth in only eight minutes potentially disrupting communications and satelite orbits. Particles arrive roughly an hour later with the coronal mass itself usually making it to the earth in three or four days.
Besides the beauty of the northern lights scientists now believe they create something like our earthquakes, only in space. As the coronal mass strikes the earth it's believed that the atmosphere actually becomes stretched like a rubber band. As the atmosphere "bounces back" it creates these ripples or "space quakes. " This energizes the ionesphere which in turm emits the bright red and green lights, mostly seen in the northernmost lattitudes, but occasionaly make an appearance farther south.
I remember one event in the late 1980s in which the lights were clearly visible here in Nebraska. Those of us working that night stood out on the front lawn of the TV station watching a red and green glow dance across the northern sky toward Grand Island. The entire event lasted about 10 minutes. Spectacular.
Check out the following link to see what a coronal mass ejection looks like.
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