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Aurora breakthrough: ‘Never-before-recorded’ red arc activity seen above Recent Zealand | Science | News


The weird light show was recorded by astronomer and citizen scientist Dr Ian Griffin within the skies above Brighton, Dunedin, during a geomagnetic storm on the St Patrick’s Day (March 17) of 2015. Auroral activity to the south, the researchers reported, was accompanied by a broad red arc overhead that physicists discuss with as a Stable Auroral Red (SAR) arc. Over time, this evolved right into a thin, white–mauve arc referred to as a “STEVE” — or Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement. The team explained that, while each arcs may resemble regular aurorae, they’re actually produced by a rather different physical process.

On his observations, Dr Griffin said: “There was something weird happening overhead — which is unusual for Recent Zealand, because the auroras are frequently low down within the sky.

“I got curious and pulled out a extremely wide fisheye lens to begin a timelapse.”

“Because this type of transformation has never been recorded before, we’ve come away with some interesting measurements that may’t be explained by current scientific theories and models.”

The findings, the researchers said, may solid a latest light on the complex magnetic interactions that occur within the near-Earth space environment.

Following the sunshine display, Dr Griffin posted his observations on YouTube, where, in 2018, they attracted the eye of auroral scientist Dr Bea Gallardo-Lacourt of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland.

The recordings were then shared with space physicist Professor Carlos Martinis of Boston University and his colleagues.

They analysed the footage together with data collected from satellites and an all-sky imager situated on the Mount John Observatory — some 124 miles north of Dunedin

Dr Griffin said: “It was a pleasure and a privilege to to work alongside a team of researchers to uncover the secrets of those auroral displays.”

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Dr Gallardo-Lacourt said: “For the reason that discovery of STEVE, the assistance and collaboration provided by citizen scientists has been critical to our research.

“Their dedication and keenness for chasing the aurora and related phenomena provided us with an incredible set of knowledge.

“I never thought my work would involve such a wealthy connection to this community and the sweetness provided by their photographs.”

Professor Martinis added: “These observations highlight the advantages of merging two communities, citizen scientists and researchers, to assist discover latest connections in geospace.

“Without Ian’s photographs, this study wouldn’t have been possible.

“The outcomes reveal the fast evolution of among the strongest plasma properties ever measured within the Earth’s upper atmosphere.”

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Quantum physicist David Hutchinson of the University of Otago in Dunedin said: “Physicists like to smash atoms together and see what happens, but we normally must construct things just like the Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland.

“On this case, nature did all of the labor for us by creating the auroral displays within the atmosphere.

“Understanding the processes liable for these optical phenomena is vital to uncovering the elemental science, and the way the interaction between gases and plasma at different altitudes dominate the atmospheric chemistry.”

The complete findings of the study were published within the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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