Our friend Cory Schmitz planned the perfect time to go on a Iceland Aurora photo tour. With the recent activity from the Sun, there have been some great views of the aurora borealis in Iceland. “These images are very close to what the sky actually looked like to the naked eye,” Cory said on G+. “Motion, color, everything. Right above our heads. Insane — what an experience!”
Thanks for sharing the experience, Cory…. but next time, bring us with you, huh?
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Do the aurorae makes sounds? That’s been a subject of discussion — and contention — among people who watch the sky. While most of us will never hear the aurora borealis directly, there’s help out there in the form of a little handheld radio. It’s called a VLF receiver and guarantees you an earful the next time the aurora erupts.
Despite seeing hundreds of northern light displays ranging from mild to wild, I’ve yet to actually hear what some describe as crackles and hissing noises. There is some evidence that electrophonic transduction can convert otherwise very low frequency (VLF) radio waves given off by the aurora into sound waves through nearby conductors. Wire-framed eyeglasses, grass and even hair can act as transducers to convert radio energy into low-frequency electric currents that can vibrate an object into producing sound. Similar ‘fizzing’ sounds have been recorded by meteor watchers that may happen the same way.
Imagination may be another reason some folks people hear auroras. Things that move often make sounds. A spectacular display of moving lights overhead can trick your brain into serving up an appropriate soundtrack. Given that the aurora is never closer to the ground than 50 miles, the air is far too thin at this altitude to transmit any weak sound waves that might be produced down to your ears.
If you’re like me and hard of auroral hearing, a small VLF (very low frequency) radio receiver will do the job nicely. This handheld device converts very low frequency radio waves produced from the interaction of the solar electrons and protons with the Earth’s magnetic field into sounds you can listen to with a pair of headphones.
We’re used to waves of light which are very, very short, measuring in the millionths of an inch long. The pigments in our retinas convert these waves into visible images of the world around us. Radio waves given off by auroras and other forms of natural ‘Earth energy’ like lightning range from 19 to 1,800 miles long or longer. To bring them within range of human hearing we need a radio receiver. I fire up a little unit called a WR-3 I purchased back in the mid-1990s. The components are housed in a small metal box with a whip antenna and powered by a 9-volt battery. The on-off switch also controls the volume. Plug in a set of headphones and you’re ready to listen. That’s all there is to it.
The receiver picks up lots of things besides aurora including a big ‘unnatural’ hum from alternating or AC current in power lines and home appliances. Turn one on in your house and you’ll immediately hear a loud, continuous buzz in the headphones. You’ll need to be at least a quarter mile from any of those sources in order to hear the more subtle music of the planet.
I drive out to a open ‘radio quiet’ rural area, turn on the switch and raise the antenna to the sky. Don’t stand under any trees either. They’re great absorbers of the low frequency radio energy you’re trying to detect. What will you hear? Read on and click the links to hear the sound files.
* Sferics. The first thing will be the pops, crackles and sizzles of distant lightning called sferics which are similar to the crackles on an AM car radio during a thunderstorm.
* Tweeks. Lightning gives off lots of energy in the long end of the radio spectrum. When that energy gets ducted through the upper layers of Earth’s atmosphere called the ionosphere over distances of several thousand miles, it emits another type of sound called ‘tweeks‘. These remind me of Star Wars lasers or dripping water. Flurries of tweeks have an almost musical quality like someone plucking the strings of a piano.
* Whistlersand Whistler Clusters. When those same lightning radio waves enter Earth’s magnetosphere and interact with the particles there, they can cycle back and forth between the north and south geomagnetic poles traveling tens of thousands of miles to create whistlers. Talk about an eerie, futuristic sound. After their long journey, the higher frequency waves arrive before those of lower frequency causing the sound to spread out in a series of long, descending tones. The sound may also take you back to those old World War II movies when bombs whistled through the air after dropping from the hatch of a B-17. Tweeks are very brief; whistlers last anywhere from 1/2 to 4 seconds or longer.
* Dawn Chorus. Sometimes you’ll hear dozens of whistlers, one after the other. When conditions are right, a VLF receiver can pick up disturbances in Earth’s magnetic bubble spawned by auroras called ‘chorus‘ or ‘dawn chorus’. Talk about strange. Who would have guessed that solar electrons spiraling along Earth’s magnetic field lines would intone the ardor of frogs or a chorus of birds at dawn? And yet, there you have it.
* More Dawn Chorus: On a good night, and especially when the northern lights are out, it’s a magnetospheric symphony. Thunderstorms thousands of miles away provide a bounty of crackles and tweeks with occasional whistlers. Listen closely and you might even hear the froggy voice of the aurora rising and falling with a rhythm reminiscent of breathing.
If you’re interested in listening to VLF and in particular the aurora, basic receivers are available through the two online sites below. I’ve only used the WR-3 and can’t speak for the others, but they all run between $110-135. One word of warning if you purchase – don’t use one when there’s a lightning storm nearby. Holding a metal aerial under a thundercloud is not recommended!
More on natural radio can be found HERE. Things to keep in mind when considering a purchase are whether you have access to an open area 1/2 mile from a power line and away from homes. You’ll also need patience. Many nights you’ll only hear lightning crackles from distant storms thousands of miles away peppered by the occasional ping of a tweet. Whistlers may not appear for weeks at a time and then one night, you’ll hear them by the hundreds. But if you regularly watch the sky, it’s so easy to take the radio along and ‘give a listen’ for some of the most curious sounds you’ll ever hear. How astonishing it is to sense our planet’s magnetosphere through sound. Consider it one more way to be in touch with the home planet.
For more on natural radio including additional sound files I invite you to check out Stephen P. McGreevy’s site.
Shot from the Arctic Circle in Canada, this beautiful display of the Aurora Borealis will put you in the holiday mood (I’m sure Santa’s workshop is just beyond one of those mountains in the background!) National Geographic photographer Mike Theiss said the northern lights started around 11:30pm and continued on until around 3am. “The lights were dancing, rolling and twisting and at times looked like they were close enough to touch,” he said.
The Aurora Borealis fills nearly the entire sky in Cleary Summit, Alaska. Credit: Jason Ahrns on Flickr.
With just a glancing blow from a coronal mass ejection (CME) this week, skywatchers in the northern latitudes have been enjoying some beautiful views of the Aurora Borealis. Here are a few stunning views from last night (October 8-9, 2012), including this jaw-dropping aurora that filled the entire sky for Jason Ahrns in Cleary Summit, Alaska. “This lens has a near-180 degree field of view from corner to corner – this swirl covered the entire sky, and put off enough light to read the focus indicator on my lens,” Jason wrote on Flickr.
See more below:
This view is from Kilmany, Scotland. “You could see the rays moving left – so stunning,” said photographer Corinne Mills.
This view came from the AuroraMAX camera in Yellowknife, NWT taken at 00:53 MDT on October 9, 2012. Credit: AuroraMAX.
“I’ve been tracking aurora activity all day and it peaked again tonight,” writes photographer Gareth Paxton on Flickr. “There was a substantial glow in the sky – this was taken from Linlithgow (Scotland).”
Caption: Swirling Aurora. Image Credit: Jason Ahrns
There have been legends and folktales about sounds associated with auroae, but most accounts were summarily dismissed as imagination or illusion. But researchers in Finland set up microphones in conjunction with an aurora observation site and over the past 12 years captured a “clapping” sound that occurs at certain times when the Northern Lights are ablaze in the sky.
“In the past, researchers thought that the aurora borealis was too far away for people to hear the sounds it made,” said Unto K. Laine from Aalto University in Finland. “However, our research proves that the source of the sounds that are associated with the aurora borealis we see is likely caused by the same energetic particles from the Sun that create the northern lights far away in the sky. These particles or the geomagnetic disturbance produced by them seem to create sound much closer to the ground.”
The researchers installed three separate microphones and were able to record the sounds, which sound similar to crackles or muffled bangs which last for only a short period of time.
They then compared the recordings and determined the location of the sound source was about 70 meters (230 feet) above ground.
They made the recordings along with simultaneous measurements of the geomagnetic disturbances by the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The sounds did not always occur, but when they did, the measurements showed the aurorae were showed of a typical pattern, according the geomagnetic measurements.
The team said that it is not yet scientifically proven that the “clap” sound is related to the aurora borealis, but similar events have been detected only during times of high geomagnetic activity.
“Our research proved that, during the occurrence of the northern lights, people can hear natural auroral sounds related to what they see,” said Laine.
The sounds are quite soft, so one has to listen very carefully to hear them and to distinguish them from the ambient noise, the team said.
Details about how the auroral sounds are created are still a mystery, Laine said. The descriptions of the sounds vary from claps, to distant noise or sputter, and the So, because of these different descriptions, researchers suspect that there are may be several mechanisms behind the formation of these auroral sounds.
Find more information on these mysterious sounds on the team’s website, Auroral Acoustics
Video Caption: Up the East Coast of North America. Credit: NASA
The North American continent is literally set ablaze in a confluence of Auroral and Manmade light captured in spectacular new videos snapped by the astronauts serving aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The Expedition 30 crew has recently filmed lengthy sequences of images that are among the most stunning ever taken by astronauts flying in orbit some 240 miles (385 kilometers) over the United States and Canada.
Teams working at the Crew Earth Observations center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas have assembled hundreds of individual still images taken onboard the ISS into a series of amazing videos.
Two videos collected here focus on the East and West coasts of North America and show the path traveled by the station from the crew’s perspective as they photographed the light emitted by hundreds of millions of humans living below and the brilliant light of the Aurora Borealis shining above them.
Now the NASA team has assembled the entire sequence of images taken on January 29, 2012 from 05:33:11 to 05:48:10 GMT into a video -see above.
The orbital pass runs from Central America just southwest of Mexico and continues to the North Atlantic Ocean, northeast of Newfoundland. It begins by looking over Central America towards the Gulf of Mexico and the southeastern United States. As the ISS travels northeast over the gulf, some southeastern United States cities can be distinguished, like New Orleans, Mobile, Jacksonville, and Atlanta. Continuing up the east coast, some northeastern states, like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City stand out brightly along the coastline. The Aurora Borealis shines in the background as the pass finishes near Newfoundland
The 2nd video is titled “Across Southwest Canada at Night”
This sequence of shots was taken January 25, 2012 from 12:34:11 to 12:36:28 GMT, on a pass from near the border of British Columbia, Canada and Washington state, near Vancouver Island, to southern Alberta, near Calgary.
The main focus of this video is the Aurora Borealis over Canada, which appears very near the ISS during this short and exciting video.
For an otherworldly and eerie perspective, click here to see what a Manmade artifact on the surface of Mars looks like as seen from Mars Orbit – also taken just a few days ago on Jan. 29, 2012, but this time by a robot in place of a human !
The Earth-directed solar storm we alerted readers to this week has hit, with reports of auroral activity in Russia, Denmark, Scotland, England, and Norway. Helge Mortensen from Tromvik, Norway captured this stunning video. According to Spaceweather.com, the coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth’s magnetic field at 0617 UT on Jan. 22nd.
There’s also a live aurora webcam you can watch via this link
Skywatchers in northern Europe are already seeing some aurora activity as a strong-to-severe geomagnetic storm is in progress, according to the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center and SpaceWeather.com. The fuel for this storm was a coronal mass ejection over the weekend that has now reached Earth. This is great news for skywatchers, as both the Northern and Southern lights should be spectacular. But this is not so good news for satellite companies. The Goddard Space Weather Lab reports a “strong compression of Earth’s magnetosphere. Simulations indicate that solar wind plasma [has penetrated] close to geosynchronous orbit starting at 13:00 UT.” Geosynchronous satellites could therefore be directly exposed to solar wind plasma and magnetic fields.
The active region on the Sun will be pointed straight at Earth in few days as the Sun rotates, so this could be a week of high auroral activity. If you are able to capture images, send the to Universe Today via email or upload them to our Flickr page, and we’ll share them! See an image below of the Sun from September 25, 2011, showing the Active Region 1302, courtesy of John Chumack.
Seeing the Northern or Southern Lights is an awe-inspiring experience, but do you know the science behind their beauty? This video from Per Byhring and the physics department at the University of Oslo explains how particles originating from deep inside the core of the Sun creates aurorae in the atmosphere of Earth.
The video takes a look at how cloud of electrically charged particles emanate from the Sun, and what happens when this plasma reaches the Earth and interacts with the planet’s magnetic field, which creates fantastic light shows in the extreme northern and southern latitudes.
The online observatory AuroraMAX, which offers live-streaming views of Canada’s northern lights, has seen an uptick in recent aurora activity, and the latest images the team has released are nothing short of stunning. The image above was taken early this morning, April 7, 2011. AuroraMAX is monitoring the intensity and frequency of the Aurora Borealis above their cameras in Canada in the years leading up to Solar Maximum, expected in 2013. In addition to nightly broadcasts of the aurora, AuroraMAX is helping demystify the science behind the phenomenon, as well as providing tips for seeing and photographing auroras.