Spooky Sky Created by a Coronal Mass Ejection

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Imagine looking up at the sky and seeing a eerie sight of greens streaming across the sky.  One might think this spooky looking display is the result of paranormal activity.  This particular image, captured by Norwegian photographer, Bjørn Jørgensen, evokes the image of a mythical person, arms spread wide with streams of colored light emanating from all sides.

The actual cause of this light show is less otherworldly, and is the result of an astronomical event known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME.  Over the course of several hours, the sun emits bursts of electrons, protons and other ions in the form of gasses.  These highly-charged particles speed through space at the rate of 2000 km/s.  Once they reach the Earth’s atmosphere, these particles come into forceful contact with oxygen and nitrogen.  The collision of these particles creates an explosion and energy is released in the form of light.  The resulting light colors depends on the collision: nitrogen results in reddish-blue and collisions with atomic and molecular oxygen results in red or greenish-yellow light.

A eerie night sky in Norway as the result of a coronal mass ejection (CME). Photo: B. Jørgensen (http://www.arcticphoto.no/)
An eerie night sky in Norway as the result of a coronal mass ejection (CME). Photo: B. Jørgensen (http://www.arcticphoto.no/)

More: A spooky skyscape to celebrate Halloween – European Space Agency

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