Severe solar storm creates rare polar arc in Ladakh sky

New Delhi: A deep red glow illuminated the dark sky over parts of Ladakh in a rare stationary polar red arc event at the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve in the high Himalayas caused by Earth-facing intense solar magnetic storms.

According to scientists at the Center for Space Science Excellence, the solar storm or coronal mass ejection is from the AR13664 region of the Sun, which has generated several high-energy solar flares, some of which are traveling towards Earth at speeds of up to 800 km/s. India (CESSI), Kolkata, said.

The spectacular aurora, or northern lights, lit up the sky in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere as skywatchers in Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland, Denmark and Poland shared photos and short videos of the dancing lights on social media.

In Ladakh, astronomers at the Hanle Dark Sky Reserve observed a red glow on the north-western horizon in the sky from around 1 am on Saturday which continued till dawn.

Stanzin Norla, an engineer at the Henley Dark Sky Reserve, told PTI, 'We were fortunate to see the aurora activities on our all-sky camera during routine binocular observations.'

He said a faint red glow was visible to the naked eye along the horizon and that the event was captured in great detail by a DSLR camera installed at the Hanley Dark Sky Reserve.

'It covered the sky from about 1 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.,' Stanzin said, adding that the sky turned red along the horizon and later turned pink.

Dorje Angchuk, an engineer at the Indian Astronomical Observatory in Hanle, described the event as a steady polar red arc, a rare occurrence over the skies of Ladakh.

'Auroras visible near the North or South Pole are dynamic phenomena. They keep changing. But what was seen in Ladakh was more stable. This is called a stable auroral red arc. “There was a steady glow in the sky for a few hours,” Angchuk said.

Dibyendu Nandi, head of CESSI at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata, told PTI that such events are rare in Hanle as it is located in the far south.

He said such events are more likely to occur in places like Hanley during intense disturbances caused by solar storms.

'These auroral red arcs are probably caused by the heating of the atmosphere by electrical currents flowing between Earth and outer space,' Nandy said.

'These ring currents increase during geomagnetic disturbances induced by solar storms and thus the probability of seeing a red polar arc is many times higher when we are in the midst of a severe geomagnetic storm,' he said.

CESSI said the sun produced strong solar flares starting Wednesday, resulting in five bursts of plasma that were capable of disrupting satellites in orbit and power grids on Earth.

'We are seeing severe space weather at a level we have not seen in the last two decades. “It could get even worse as more solar storms are expected to impact Earth or perhaps more spectacular auroras for everyone,” Nandy said.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is calling it an unusual event, and points out that the flames appear to be linked to a sunspot that is 16 times larger than Earth's diameter. A severe geomagnetic storm in 2003 knocked out power in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

published 11 May 2024, 10:47 First

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