A solar storm hit Earth last week and opened a hole in the magnetic field of our planet. The most noticeable effects of this phenomenon were visible in the sky, where pink auroras appeared, something extremely rare.
On November 3, scientists who monitor space weather recorded a grade 1 solar storm. As a result, according to data collected by spaceweather.coma crack was detected in the magnetosphere, as the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth is called and protects it from the elements of space.
Moments later, around 6 pm, a tour group in Tromsø, northern Norway, spotted strange pink auroras for a couple of minutes. This sighting, according to experts, is linked to the recently detected phenomenon in the magnetic field.
Immediate effect of the hole on the magnetic field
Auroras form when solar wind, high-energy charged particles, pass through the magnetosphere and interact with the atmosphere. This happens mainly at the poleswhere the magnetic field is weakest, allowing the solar wind to reach between 300 and 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.
According to The NASA, this interaction causes solar particles to superheat gases in the atmosphere and shine in the night sky. At these heights, the most abundant is oxygen, which is why the auroras usually reflect the green color.
But the hole in the magnetic field caused by the recent solar storm allowed the solar wind to penetrate below 100 kilometers above the surface. At that height, nitrogen is the most abundant gas and emits a pinkish glow when its atoms collide with solar particles.
According to report From Spaceweather.com, the hole in the magnetosphere remained open for about six hours. During that period, blue and purple lights were sighted in Sweden, colors also related to nitrogen at different heights.
Should we worry?
Solar ejecta that reach Earth sometimes contain a combination of the Sun’s magnetic field and shock waves that allows them to deeply penetrate the magnetosphere of our planet.
In the 20th century, scientists thought these cracks opened and closed quickly, but it was later discovered that they can stay open for hours.
“We found that our magnetic shield is drafty, like a house with an open window during a storm,” said Harald Frey, lead author of a study on this phenomenon.
“The house deflects most of the storm, but the sofa is ruined. Similarly, our magnetic shield bears the brunt of space storms, but some energy enters through its cracks, sometimes enough to cause problems with satellites, radio communications and power systems.” he explained.
For that reason, space agencies such as NASA and ESA monitor space weather from their satellites so that governments can be alerted to solar events potentially damaging to their technology and infrastructure.