If you see an odd glow in the sky tonight, here’s what it’s called and its cause


You’ve heard of the northern lights? The next few days you may be able to see lights even if you aren’t that far north.

The sun erupted on Sunday, spewing plasma, “a highly ionized gas containing an approximately equal number of positive ions and electrons” right in our direction. There’s no reason to freak out; solar storms are relatively common, and the most significant impact they have on our big blue marble is to possibly disrupt electronics and satellite communications.

When the remnants of the plasma reach our atmosphere, they move towards the magnetic poles and go bang, creating famous and bizarre lights at the poles. The North Pole phenomenon is known as the Aurora Borealis, Greek for “Northern dawn.” The lesser known version of this occurs at the South Pole, called the Aurora Australis.

The burst of super-hot stuff from the sun is called a coronal mass ejection. A corona is more than a beer. The general definition is “a  circle of light seen around a luminous body,” but the sun’s corona is “a faintly luminous envelope outside of the sun’s chromosphere.”

(In related news, what do scientists call a recently-discovered star so big that it practically breaks the scale. Here’s the ginormous answer.)

Tuesday night the auroras (Greek for “dawn”) were potentially visible as far south as Wisconsin. Anecdotal reports suggest a disappointing lack of red and green glow. Maybe tonight will be more luminous. Let us know if you saw anything last night, and share your experience if you gaze into the sky this evening as well.

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