On November 20, 2003 Auroras were seen in the southern United States. This is not a normal occurrence as is likely obvious to most of you. Auroras, or the Northern Lights, are caused by charged particles from the sun spiraling around the earth’s magnetic field and hitting the atmosphere. The magnetic field lines of the Earth are only close enough to the atmosphere for this to happen at the poles. However, in 2003 a coronal mass ejection(CME) disrupted the magnetic field of the Earth near the southern United States. This allowed charged particles to go through this new hole in the magnetic field and slam into the atmosphere thus causing Auroras in the south.
A coronal mass ejection is a huge (a billion-ton) cloud of gas that comes from an explosion on the sun. It also has a magnetic field that when oriented right can cancel out the Earth’s. In this particular instance the CME and the explosion was medium sized, so not very intense or dangerous to satellites, and yet it produced an amazing spectacle which I hope to one day be able to witness.
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