Auroras are as mysterious as beautiful they seem to the eyes, and scientists might have solved this mystery, tracing out the true reason why these beautiful lights are formed in the skies in some parts of the world.
Tracking the true reason behind these formations in the skies was no easy feat, but scientists now have proof thanks to a new study led by physicists from the University of Iowa. Their study revealed the reason behind the formation of auroras, it was published in the journal Nature Communications. It provided evidence that these lights are formed because of powerful electromagnetic waves during geomagnetic storms in a phenomenon called Alfven Waves. This causes the electrons to accelerate towards the Earth which resultingly causes the particles to make up the light show that most people wish to see at least once in their lifetime.
Greg Howes, one of the authors behind the new study states, “measurements revealed this small population of electrons undergo ‘resonant acceleration’ by the Alfven wave’s electric field, similar to a surfer catching a wave and being continually accelerated as the surfer moves along with the wave.”
Researchers used a large plasma device in UCLA’s Basic Plasma Science Facility to gather the insight behind the formations of auroras in the sky. The facility is a collaborative research center funded by the U.S Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.
“The idea that these waves can energize the electrons that create the aurora goes back more than four decades, but this is the first time we’ve been able to confirm definitively that it works,” explained Craig Kletzing, professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Iowa and a study co-author. “These experiments let us make the key measurements that show that the space measurements and theory do, indeed, explain a major way in which the aurora is created.”
The researchers using numerical simulations and mathematical modeling were able to show the results of their new reveal. Through experimentation, simulation, and modeling, the researchers provided insight that Alfven Waves can produce accelerated electrons that result in creating these amazing sights in the sky.
“This challenging experiment required a measurement of the very small population of electrons moving down the LPD chamber at nearly the same speed as the Alfven waves, numbering less than one in a thousand of the electrons in the plasma,” explained Troy Carter, director of the UCLA Plasma Science and Technology Institute.
You can view the original study in the journal Nature Communications.