Solar Storm Creates Rare Pink Aurora

On Nov. 3, a dazzling display of rare pink auroras washed across the sky above Norway. A tour group led by Markus Varik, a local northern lights guide, happened to witness the show. The pink colors only lasted about two minutes, but Varik managed to capture several stunning shots.

pink auroras above Norway

Photo: Markus Varik

 

“These were the strongest pink auroras I have seen in more than a decade of leading tours,” Varik told Live Science. “It was a humbling experience.”

pink auroras over Norway

Photo: Markus Varik

 

In an email to spaceweather.com, the guide mentioned that he’s never experienced anything quite like this display, despite his experience guiding aurora tours inside the Arctic Circle.

“I thought I’d seen it all,” he said.

Pink vs. green

Pink auroras are far rarer than green ones. The reason has to do with the Earth’s magnetic field, according to spaceweather.

Normal auroras take place higher in the atmosphere (between 100 and 300 kilometres), where oxygen particles excited by solar wind give off a green hue. Usually, the Earth’s magnetic field prevents solar wind from reaching deeper than that.

pink auroras over Norway

Photo: Markus Varik

 

But during this event, a class G-1 solar storm temporarily punched a hole in the magnetosphere, allowing energetic solar particles to sink far deeper into the Earth’s atmosphere than usual (below the 100km mark).

At that altitude, the atmosphere has a higher percentage of nitrogen, which lights up in a different hue than oxygen when excited.

The result? A shimmering light show in pinks and purples. And even better for the tour group watching the rare occurrence, those colors appeared just as vivid to the naked eye as through the camera. Usually, auroras are one of those few things that the camera ‘sees’ more vividly than the eye does.

The class G-1 storm also caused strange occurrences in Sweden, where an odd blue line hovered over Abisko National Park.

“It didn’t look like any auroras I have ever seen before,” Chad Blakley, director of LIghts over Lapland, told spaceweather.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew's essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals. You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).