How this week’s aurora activity is being driven by the sun

(Photo courtesy UAF Geophysical Institute)

Solar activity is increasing the likelihood of active aurora. University of Alaska Fairbanks Emeritus professor of physics, and longtime aurora forecaster, Charles Deehr says this week’s activity is one of two mechanisms that drive the aurora.

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”The first are these huge outbursts that we get during the solar maximum. Now we’re on our way down to the minimum,” Deehr said. “We have the other method, what we call coronal holes. These are high-speed streams of particles that come out from the sun and it looks like a great big garden sprinkler.”

Deehr says one hole occurred on Monday the 10th, and computer modeling predicts a second on the 13th or 14th. Deehr stresses aurora over any region hinge on timing.

”Sometimes there’s a lot of activity but it’s all over on, say, the other side of the earth,” Deehr said. “Our time zone for active aurora is nine to twelve, universal time, The three-hour period where we’re at magnetic midnight.”

Alaska’s magnetic midnight, when the magnetic North Pole is between us and the sun, is between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Deehr says the current coronal hole activity will continue to increase the likely hood of aurora over the next 4 to 5 days.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.