REGION — Possible sightings of the aurora borealis, otherwise known as northern lights led many Franklin County residents to spend Friday night, May 10, outdoors in hopes of seeing them. They were not disappointed and several shared photos of the phenomenon.

The northern lights seen Friday evening, May 10, overlooking Webb Lake in Weld. Photo by Laureen Nadge Pratt

 

According to NASA Science Space Place, an aurora is caused by the sun, even though it is best seen at night. The beautiful light shows seen in the north are called borealis while those seen in the south are referred to as australis or southern lights, the website notes.

The northern lights seen Friday evening, May 10, from Cape Cod Hill in New Sharon. Photo by Darryl Wood

“The sun provides not only heat and light, it sends lots of other energy and small particles our way,” the website states. “The protective magnetic field around Earth shields us from most of the energy and particles, and we don’t even notice them. But the sun doesn’t send the same amount of energy all the time. There is a constant streaming solar wind and there are also solar storms. During one kind of solar storm called a coronal mass ejection, the sun burps out a huge bubble of electrified gas that can travel through space at high speeds.”

The northern lights seen Friday night, May 10, from Waugh Road in Farmington. Photo by Steve Muise

“When a solar storm comes toward us, some of the energy and small particles can travel down the magnetic field lines at the north and south poles into Earth’s atmosphere,” the website continues. “There, the particles interact with gases in our atmosphere resulting in beautiful displays of light in the sky.”

The northern lights seen Friday night, May 10, overlooking the Sandy River in Farmington. Photo by Steve Muise

A post on the Northern Cross Science Foundation Facebook page gives information about the colors seen during auroras and how high they are. The Wisconsin-based organization indicates:

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• Red/pink is caused by excited atomic oxygen at high altitude, only visible under intense solar activity due to low concentrations of oxygen. Above 150 miles.

• Green is caused by excited atomic oxygen at lower altitudes, is emitted instead of red due to higher concentrations of oxygen. Up to 150 miles.

• Purple/blue are from ionized nitrogen because atomic oxygen is uncommon at low altitudes. Similar to red/pink, purple/blue is associated with intense solar activity. Purple is seen above 60 miles, blue seen up to 60 miles.

The northern lights seen Friday evening, May 10, from Titcomb Hill in Farmington. Photo by Amanda Beane

The solar storm was expected to continue Saturday, however clouds filled much of the night sky. Amanda Beane of Farmington was at Wilson Lake in Wilton hoping to see them there. On her Facebook page she noted her camera captured some color but it wasn’t visible to the naked eye unlike the night before.


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