CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Aug. 3 (UPI) — Sky watchers could be treated to a spectacular Northern Lights display Tuesday night, as a solar blast sent tons of plasma towards Earth, scientists say.
Scientists at Harvard University say after a long period of quiet, the sun is becoming active, blasting tons of ionized atoms into interplanetary space in what is called a coronal mass ejection, a university release said.
“This eruption is directed right at us, and is expected to get here early in the day on August 4th,” astronomer Leon Golub of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said. “It’s the first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time.”
“We got a beautiful view of this eruption,” said Golub. “And there might be more beautiful views to come, if it triggers aurorae.”
Coronal mass ejections interact with our planet’s magnetic field, sending solar particles streaming down toward Earth’s poles, where they collide with atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the atmosphere, making them glow like miniature neon signs.
Aurorae normally are visible only at high latitudes. But a strong solar eruption can light up the sky at lower latitudes.
Observers in the northern United States and other countries should look toward the north on the evening of August 3rd/4th for rippling “curtains” of green and red light, the Harvard astronomers say.
Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.