Hole in Sun’s Atmosphere Amps Up Northern Lights

By Mike Wall

The northern lights just got a boost thanks to a big hole in the sun’s atmosphere, and there could be something of a repeat showing tonight.

A moderate geomagnetic storm made flickering auroras visible to skywatchers as far south as Minnesota and Wisconsin early this morning (Sept. 11), according to Spaceweather.com.

That storm was triggered by an especially potent and fast-moving burst of solar wind — the stream of charged particles flowing constantly from the sun — which escaped through a gaping hole in the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona.

The northern and southern lights result when such particles slam into molecules high up in Earth’s atmosphere, generating a glow. Earth’s magnetic field channels these particles toward the planet’s poles, which explains why the auroras are usually restricted to high latitudes. But special circumstances — such as coronal holes and giant explosions of solar plasma called coronal mass ejections — can extend the intensity and the reach of these dazzling light displays.

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