Over the night of 4-5 October 2012, the Sun decided things were getting a bit boring in the solar system and decided to inject some fun. Perhaps eject is a better term. The Sun flung off a bunch of energetic particles in what is known to the astro nerds as a coronal mass ejection.
The Earth is generally guarded from the Sun’s angry radiation by our swaddle of magnetosphere. When the Sun decides it’s party-time, it erupts with something like this coronal mass ejection, a solar flare or even just breathes a little solar wind our way. Our magnetic field gets a little flustered as the energetic particles comes raining down through the magnetosphere. When they get down to the upper atmosphere, they start the rave party by exciting oxygen and nitrogen particles, causing them to release the rad photons that we humans call an “aurora” (you might also know them as the ‘northern lights’).
This particular coronal mass ejection was a little bit more exciting than your average curtains of light across the cold northern skies, because the disco extended all the way down across Quebec and Ontario on the morning of October 8.
The picture above was taken by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite, using the day-night band (DNB) of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). The Suomi NPP represents a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminisration and the Department of Defense.
If you happened to be up and looking at the sky in these regions, you might have believed aliens were invading. You know, if you weren’t a nerd and didn’t instead think, “Maybe I’ll get to meet the doctor.”