Sunday 2nd June, 2013

Coronal Mass Ejections and food. Coronal Mass Ejections may not be as important as food, which is why food safety scares hit the headlines like hot potatoes and CME’s dance around in the upper atmosphere like an ethereal green swamp in a bad dream.

For CME’s read Aurora Australis – like the Northern lights Aurora Borealis but these are the Southern lights and can be seen from this part of the world – unless potatoes are involved. Last night was a good display and having never seen Aurora Anything (other than a P&O cruise ship bearing a similar name), I was keen to witness this spectacular light show which is caused by charged particles streaming away from the Sun, carried by the solar wind and interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field as they travel down the Earth’s magnetic field lines to the poles, where they collide with atoms in our atmosphere. Sadly, hunger was involved so I was baking a potato at the time and missed it completely. But this is how it looked over Christchurch last night:Aurora Christchurch 2 

This year is predicted to see a period of intense solar activity, “The most intense solar maximum in 50 years” according to Mausumi Dikpati (and no, I didn’t make that name up – as if I would). Ms Dikpati is the esteemed head of NASA’s National Center for Atmospheric Research. So if you want to see a bit of an eerie green swampy glow in the sky, this should be a good year for it. This shot of last night’s swamp gig looks like an advertisement for The Hobbit: Aurora Christchurch 1 
The increase in solar activity can be tricky for those of us wired with earthly polarity. The flow of charged electrons battering their way our way can give satellites headaches, discombobulate GPS systems, cause havoc with t’interweb communications and cause instability in electric grids. If this energy can be channelled however, it may be possible to microwave potatoes simply by standing outside and holding the simple spud skyward. If so, I might yet get to see an Aurora without going hungry.


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