The image to the left is the typical appearance of the aurora before a magnetic substorm. During a substorm, the single auroral ribbon may split into several ribbons (centre) or even break into clusters that race north and south (right). Credits: Jan Curtis
Cluster provides new insights into the working of a ‘space tsunami’ that plays a role in disrupting the calm and beautiful aurora, or northern lights, creating patterns of auroral dances in the sky.
Generally seen in high-latitude regions such as Scandinavia or Canada, aurorae are colourful curtains of light that appear in the sky. Caused by the interaction of high-energy particles brought by the solar wind with Earth’s magnetic field, they appear in many different shapes.
Early in the evening, the aurora often forms a motionless green arc that stretches across the sky in the east-west direction. Colourful dancing auroral forms are the results of disturbances known as ‘substorms’ taking place in Earth’s magnetosphere.
These perturbations can affect our daily lives, in particular by affecting the reception of GPS signals. Thus, understanding the physical processes involved is important to our routine life and security.
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