Both NASA and the Goddard Space Centre have announced that the Sun’s polarity has finally flipped. Don’t worry; it sounds dramatic, but this is a natural, recurring phenomenon and totally harmless! The flip in polarity heralds the peak of Solar Cycle 24 and signifies the mid-point in this particular Solar Maximum (the period when the Northern Lights are historically at their most frequent and spectacular).
Basically, what the experts are saying is that half of the Solar Maximum is behind us but the other half, very possibly the better half, still lies ahead.
Two of the NOAA/NASA Solar Cycle Prediction Panel’s leading panellists believe that the current solar cycle will start to decline in 2015, but note that their own research suggests that major solar flares and noteworthy geomagnetic activity normally occur as a solar cycle declines.
The midnight sun in Scandinavia means that the Northern Lights won’t be visible until late August and early September. So when is the best time to go?
Image: Markku Inkila
It may seem slightly strange but here at The Aurora Zone, we can’t wait for the end of summer.Yes, summer is lovely with warm, sunny days and long hours of daylight but therein lies our problem....daylight, there is simply too much of it.
Late last summer we speculated as to whether the 2014/15 Northern Lights season could match those of the previous two years which had delivered some unforgettable displays.
In June 2014, NASA confirmed that the Sun had reached the peak of its current solar cycle and, rather excitingly, geophysical research suggested that the declining period of a solar cycle often coincides with significant solar events. There's nothing that gets an Aurora hunter more excited than increased solar activity so we thought we would ask a couple of the best in the business to review the season so far. It seems that it has more than lived up to expectations.
Markku Inkila lives near Ivalo in North East Finland and is, without any doubt, one of Scandinavia's most knowledgeable and enthusiastic Northern Lights guides. We asked him to sum up the season using his own words and a couple of images:
This autumn was crazy, 12 nights straight and we saw the Northern Lights every night. During the winter we have seen lights every clear night and that is awesome! There has been lots of talk about solar maximum that was supposed to be last year and the year before, but the thing is that we are in the middle of the "aurora zone" so it doesn't matter what year it is, we see them nearly every day when it's clear sky.
Forget Fifty Shades of Grey, what gets us Aurora hunters all steamed up are myriad shades of green.
Green is the predominant colour in the Northern Lights and whilst the science that determines the colours in the Northern Lights isn't quite as racy as E. L. James's erotic romance novel, it's worth looking at what causes the Auroral colours.
When charged particles from the sun collide with the atoms and molecules that constitute the gases in the Earth's atmosphere those atoms are said to be "excited" and as a result, they give off light. The colour of that light is determined by the type of gas involved in the collision.
Are you still with us? Bet you read Fifty Shades of Grey for longer than you did this blog!
Most commonly, the sun's particles hit our atmosphere at altitudes between 75 miles and 120 miles where Oxygen predominates. When the atoms in Oxygen are "excited" they give off green light and hence, the majority of Auroral displays are different shades of swirling, twirling, shimmering, dancing green light.
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