In hues of green and purple, the many Northern Light displays that North America has witnessed over the last few months are among 2021s best hits. However, while they’ve been a sight to behold, the reason why so many have been able to cross seeing them off of their bucket list may actually be even more interesting than the Aurora aesthetic itself.
Though watching the lights gain a few frequent flyer miles might be tranquil and promote a sense of calm, their cause is chaotic and at some point could lead to mass internet blackouts.
View this post on Instagram
This, of course, is the worst-case scenario, but it’s important to understand what’s going on in Earth’s backyard right now, especially because it certainly doesn’t happen every day.
To break it all down, we spoke to Dr. David Milling, an Faculty Service Officer for the Faculty of Science in the Physics department at the University of Alberta, and what we learned was eye-opening.
First, if you live in the more southern provinces or the northern states and are among the many who have noticed the uptick in Aurora displays over the last while, know that you’re not imagining things.
As simplified by Milling and the Government of Canada, the Northern lights occur when charged particles from the sun collide with gasses in our upper atmosphere.
The more active the sun is, the more likely people further south are able to see these collisions that appear to us as flashes of colour. And right now it turns out that the sun is going kind of going through a bit of a ‘phase.’
According to Dr. Milling, every eleven years for eleven years (yes, that’s confusing), the solar system’s spiciest boy will act out (kind of like you did after the first time you heard My Chemical Romance on the radio) and this particular storm is going the biggest we’ve seen since the 1920s!
During these ‘seasons’, the sun is extremely energetic, and solar winds are caught in Earth’s magnetic field which can cause more Southern Auroras and in some cases (depending on the intensity of the storm) can also interrupt the Earth’s electrical grid – but don’t panic.
View this post on Instagram
While we definitely rely more on technology far more than we did 11 years ago, we’re also a lot more prepared than we’ve ever been. As Dr. Milling assured us, when this ‘season’ of sorts comes to a head in 2025 – we will be ready.
In fact, the last devasting solar storm and blackout that we saw was way back in the 1800’s and thank goodness, because it sounds like it was terrible.
Known as the Carrington Event, it was telegraph operators that actually saw the worst of it. From fires and melting wires, electrocution and shock Carrington was a total disaster, but as we said, fear not!
In 2021 and through to the end of this thing, we will be fine, you will be fine and your Instagram will also (more than likely) be fine – so sit back, look up and enjoy the show as we enter the most exciting, most colourful time of our lives.