A crack just opened in Earth’s magnetic field
No sunspots. No solar flares. No gust of solar wind. In short, there was no reason to expect an outburst of auroras on Feb. 17… then this happened ^^^ [featured image shot by A. Kuznetsov in Kilpisjärvi, Finland on Monday].
Both the Sun and Earth have magnetic fields, though the Sun’s isn’t confined to the immediate vicinity of the star — solar wind carries it throughout the entire solar system.
As the excellent Dr. Tony Phillips over at spaceweather.com explains, out among the planets we call the Sun’s magnetic field the “Interplanetary Magnetic Field” or “IMF.” Because the Sun rotates (once every 27 days), the IMF has a spiral shape, named the “Parker spiral” after the scientist who first described it.
Earth’s magnetic field, on the other-hand, forms a defensive bubble around our planet called the magnetosphere which exists, in part, to deflect the solar wind gusts. Earth’s magnetic field and the IMF come into contact at the magnetopause; a place where the magnetosphere meets the solar wind.
Earth’s magnetic field points north at the magnetopause. If the IMF points south –a condition scientists call “southward Bz“– then the IMF can partially cancel Earth’s magnetic field at the point of contact.
“When Bz is south, that is, opposite Earth’s magnetic field, the two fields link up,” explains Christopher Russell, a Professor of Geophysics and Space Physics at UCLA. “You can then follow a field line from Earth directly into the solar wind”–or from the solar wind to Earth.
South-pointing Bz‘s open a door through which energy from the solar wind can reach Earth’s atmosphere — the event often heralds widespread auroras, triggered by solar wind gusts or coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that are able to inject energy into our planet’s magnetosphere.
A southward Bz explains the shock auroras observed on Feb. 17, but only in part, as there was no solar wind and certainly no CME accompanying it.
“Surprise auroras strike big!” exclaims Alexander Kuznetsov, the Finnish photographer behind the capturing of Monday’s display in Kilpisjärvi, Lapland.
“At one point they went pink and moved very fast!
“I also saw a fast corona unfolding above me, reminding me of an angel.
“When I first went outside, I was not expecting much because the solar wind speed was relatively low, so I did not take my snowshoes,” said Kuznetsov. “Then the show began. Currently, there is over a meter of snow in Kilpisjärvi, so I had to crawl through some snowy terrain to get to the best viewing spot.”
No sunspots. No solar flares. No gust of solar wind.
So, where exactly did these auroras come from?
One: as touched on above, a crack opened in Earth’s magnetic field (that is, “Bz tilted south”) allowing solar wind to pour in and fuel the display.
Two: Earth’s magnetic field is waning in line with a Grand Solar Minimum and a Magnetic Pole Shift. These two independently occurring factors drastically reduce Earth’s magnetic field strength, the major upshots of which being: a) an influx of atmospheric Cosmic Rays meaning increased cloud nucleation as well as a heating of the muons in silica-rich magma which triggers large-scale volcanic eruptions; and b) outbursts from the Sun having a much larger impact here on Earth, meaning even minor “non-events” such as Feb. 17’s can produce surprisingly dramatic results.
In addition, a) leads to global cooling, while b) means trouble for the electrical grid.
NASA is attempting to paint the upcoming Grand Solar Minimum as a window of opportunity for space missions, “the improving ability to make such predictions about space weather are good news for mission planners who can schedule human exploration missions during periods of lower radiation.”
However this is absurd, and serves as yet another example of government obfuscation and half-truths.
NASA are effectively forecasting a return to the Dalton Minimum (1790-1830) but gives no mention of the brutal cold, crop loss, famine, war, and powerful Volcanic eruptions associated with it. Neither are they warning of the widespread destruction a major solar flare (or CME) will cause to our modern-day electrical grid, given that our shields are down…