DOUBLE MAGNETIC SHOCK SPARKS BRIGHT AURORAS: On Friday, Jan. 19th, aurora tour guide Sara Skinner of Abisko, Sweden, kept an expectant eye on the sky because she knew that a solar wind stream was approaching Earth. “I told our guests that a display might begin soon,” she says. “What we saw, however, was way beyond what I expected! A crazy vibrant aurora boomed into action, turning everything around us green.”
“There are little words to describe what we witnessed for the next two hours,” she says. “It was totally awesome!”
The strange thing about this display was not its beauty–stunning auroras are seen routinely in Abisko–but rather its timing. The solar wind stream hadn’t yet arrived.
Solar wind speeds wouldn’t begin to increase until hours after Skinner witnessed the outburst. What happened? A magnetometer operated by Rob Stammes at the Polarlightcenter in Norway may provide an answer. “My instruments recorded a double magnetic shockwave,” he says. “With each pulse of magnetism, electric currents flowed through the ground outside our observatory and bright auroras appeared overhead.”