Earth witnessed a never seen before 'polar rain' aurora. Know how this terrifying glow was formed

After two years of studying the mysterious green aurora – which will appear on Christmas Day in the Arctic in 2022 – Japanese and US researchers have now discovered it was caused by a 'storm' of electrons directed from the sun.

This was the first time such rare auroras were seen from Earth and occurred at a time when there was a sharp decline in the solar wind, leaving the region around Earth calm.

Normally, auroras swirl and pulsate in clearly recognizable shapes across the sky. Electrons from the solar wind — a stream of charged particles flowing from the sun — power the auroral displays.

Next, the auroras become trapped in an extension of Earth's magnetic field, called the magnetotail.

When extreme space weather conditions occur, such as when a coronal mass ejection (CME) – a large ejection of plasma as well as magnetic field from the Sun – is released, the magnetotail closes.

Slowly, the trapped electrons flow toward the Earth's magnetic field lines near the poles.

When this happens, the electrons hit molecules in the Earth's atmosphere, collide with them and make them glow in the various colours of the aurora.

As they do so, they collide with molecules in the Earth's atmosphere, colliding with them and causing them to glow in the colours of the aurora.

How was the Christmas aurora different from the normal aurora?

The aurora visible on December 25-26, 2022, was quite different.

This aurora, captured by the all-sky electron multiplying charge-coupled device (EMCCD) camera in Longyearbyen, Norway, was a dim and shapeless glow extending 2,485 miles (4,000 kilometers) across.

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The aurora had no structure and did not have any pulsations or varying brightness. An aurora like this had never been seen from Earth before.

A team led by Keisuke Hosokawa of the Center for Space Science and Radio Engineering at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo solved the mystery behind these aurora rays by comparing them with rays observed by the Special Sensor Ultraviolet Scanning Imager (SSUSI) on the polar-orbiting satellites of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP).

(with inputs from agencies)

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