Violent solar storm produces dazzling, swirling aurora captured on camera

This mixture of green and purple auroral lights was captured by an all-sky camera in Sweden on Oct. 12, 2021.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Earlier this month, the sun spit out what the European Space Agency described as a “violent mass of fast-moving plasma” known as a coronal mass ejection. These CMEs can disrupt communications and GPS systems but can also deliver outstanding auroras on Earth. ESA has released an eye-catching video of one of the glowing lightshows that followed the Oct. 9 coronal mass ejection.

“What I love about this video is the chance to see this beautiful, purple aurora, more clearly visible during intense geomagnetic storms,” space weather applications scientist Hannah Laurens said in an ESA statement last week.

The video is from the fish-eye point of view of an all-sky camera in Kiruna, Sweden, that faces up to see the sky from horizon to horizon. The camera, part of ESA’s Space Weather Service Network, observed the aurora on Oct. 12. The video feels like watching a magic crystal ball as the aurora swishes from green to purple. 

The green colors are “created when energetic particles in the solar wind collide with oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere,” ESA said. The rarer purple colors come from the charged particles interacting with nitrogen. It’s a fantastical lab experiment in the sky — with real-life implications.

“While humans on Earth are protected by Earth’s magnetic field,” ESA said, “space weather can have an extreme and disruptive impact on satellites in orbit and infrastructure on Earth, and ultimately our society.” 

Laurens noted that studying the swirling movement of the aurora helps scientists monitor space weather conditions.   

The all-sky camera’s video is for serious scientific study, but it’s also worth a few moments of marveling at the connections between the moods of the sun and life on this planet.

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