Spectacular Northern Lights: Canadian Skies Illuminated by Solar Activity

by Liam O'Connor
Canadian Auroras 2023

Date: December 17, 2023

Recent solar phenomena have led to the widespread appearance of auroras across Canada.

In the middle of December 2023, heightened solar activity sent a stream of charged particles into Earth’s magnetosphere, resulting in the formation of sweeping auroras in the northern regions of the globe. The VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) aboard the joint NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite captured an image of the auroral light over western Canada in the early hours of December 17, 2023. VIIRS’s day-night band can detect night-time illumination in a spectrum ranging from green to near-infrared, employing filtration methods to discern various light sources, including urban illumination, moonlight reflections, and auroras.

The Source of the Auroras

The origins of these auroras can likely be traced back to multiple coronal mass ejections observed on December 14 and 15. The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center anticipated minor to moderate geomagnetic storms in the subsequent days. These coronal mass ejections, originating from the Sun’s corona, carry significant plasma and an inherent magnetic field. Their interaction with Earth’s upper atmosphere creates the luminescence that forms the vivid auroral displays.

Rising Solar Activity

As the Sun moves closer to the peak of its 25th solar cycle, expected around July 2025, its activity is intensifying. The Sun’s magnetic field reverses at the zenith of these approximately 11-year cycles. The tracking of solar activity variations is partly done through observing sunspots, dark areas on the Sun’s surface that are primary sources of solar eruptions.

Link Between Aurora and Solar Flares

The aurora observed here appeared a few days after the most intense solar flare of the current solar cycle. While coronal mass ejections take several days to reach Earth, solar flares arrive in minutes, impacting radio communications. Coronal mass ejections and solar flares often occur concurrently, though not invariably.

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory, Lauren Dauphin, using data from the VIIRS day-night band on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Canadian Auroras 2023

What caused the widespread auroras in Canada in December 2023?

The widespread auroras observed across Canada in December 2023 were caused by a surge in solar activity, specifically from charged particles from the Sun interacting with Earth’s magnetosphere.

How were the auroras in Canada in December 2023 captured?

The auroras over western Canada on December 17, 2023, were captured by the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite, which can detect various light sources at night.

What are coronal mass ejections and how do they relate to auroras?

Coronal mass ejections are large expulsions of plasma from the Sun’s corona, carrying magnetic fields. When they interact with Earth’s atmosphere, they produce the light seen in auroral displays.

Is there a connection between solar flares and auroras?

Yes, solar flares, which are rapid releases of energy on the Sun’s surface, can accompany coronal mass ejections. While solar flares reach Earth quickly and affect radio communications, the associated coronal mass ejections contribute to aurora formation.

What is the significance of the Sun’s solar cycle in relation to auroras?

The Sun’s solar cycle, lasting about 11 years, involves fluctuations in solar activity, including sunspots and solar eruptions. The increased solar activity near the cycle’s peak often leads to more frequent and intense auroral displays.

More about Canadian Auroras 2023

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Jake Williams December 20, 2023 - 11:08 am

wow, didn’t knew that solar flares can affect us like this, really fascinating!

Mike Johnson December 20, 2023 - 11:17 am

its amazing what technology like the Suomi NPP satellite can do, capturing such beautiful phenomena from space!

Linda Murphy December 20, 2023 - 1:37 pm

great article, but could’ve used more info on how exactly these auroras form, still a bit confused here.

Samantha Green December 20, 2023 - 2:56 pm

I saw these auroras, they were breathtaking! Article captures it well, but nothing beats seeing them in person.

Raj Patel December 20, 2023 - 11:03 pm

so, the suns activity is increasing huh? wonder how that’ll impact our weather in the coming years.


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