The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Troy Carpenter
For The Sentinel 

Northern Lights shine over Goldendale


Contributed: Goldendale Observatory

AURORA SURPRISE: Evening over the Goldendale Observatory on June 8, with the Northern Lights clearly visible. Above, the same night looking over the skyline from the roof of the Observatory captures classic green-pink Aurora Borealis.

In the early hours of June 8, planet Earth was indirectly struck by a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), a vast cloud of ionized hydrogen and helium that burst from the sun three days prior at a speed of 1.2 million miles per hour. The glancing impact touched off a moderately intense geomagnetic storm as Earth's magnetic field abruptly changed shape in response to the collision. Quadrillions of high energy solar ions were funneled via invisible lines of electromagnetic flux towards the Earth's core but never reached their destination, instead slamming into the atmosphere high above the extreme northern and southern latitudes.

Due to their tenuous nature, the gases within the sky's outer limits are easily excited to an ionized state by particle bombardments, emitting light via the same mechanism responsible for the glow of plasma TVs and neon signs. Humans recognize this phenomenon as Aurora Borealis in the North, and Aurora Australis in the South.

The lands of Santa Claus and Emperor penguins are no strangers to these sky lights, but dwellers nearer to the equator rarely see them, save for occasions of unusually powerful geomagnetic activity. The evening of June 8 was just such an occasion, and the glow of the Aurora was witnessed as far south as-the Goldendale Observatory!

Contributed: Goldendale Observatory

The same night looking over the skyline from the roof of the Observatory captures classic green-pink Aurora Borealis.

Fortunately, a camera was made ready to capture evidence for those disinclined to believe the story. Please note the colors of Auroral discharge: the science of spectroscopy reveals that all elements emit a unique signature of radiation when excited, with atomic oxygen responsible for green aurorae and nitrogen for the pinks and purples. If the combination of these two gases sounds familiar, it's because you're thinking of what air is. It should not be surprising to learn, then, that bolts of lightning are pinkish purple as well, since they are also channels of air ionized by high energy physics. 

If you regret missing out on last week's Auroral surprise, just keep an eye on the northern sky over the coming months: a lengthy period of unusual solar calm has somewhat subsided, giving rise to a noticeable uptick in flare and CME activity. More glowing air may be in the offing; just be patient, or move to the planet Saturn, where vast polar expanses of Aurorae bigger than our entire planet shine without end.


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