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Red Deerians experience Northern Lights

Red Deerians were treated with a colourful sight when they looked into the night sky this past weekend.

Red Deerians were treated with a colourful sight when they looked into the night sky this past weekend.

On Friday, Space Weather Canada warned of a "major geomagnetic storm", noting that it could have impacted power systems, satellites and other infrastructure. This solar storm created an aurora borealis across Canada, including in Central Alberta.

"It felt like a unique experience here in Red Deer," said Alice Koning, Kerry Wood Nature Centre's community outreach co-ordinator.

"The further north people are or the further north people live, they'll see aurora more often. To get such a colourful and large percentage of the sky covered by aurora here in Red Deer felt very special."

The storm was caused by coronal mass ejections from the sun, sending vast amounts of solar matter towards Earth. Each eruption, the result of solar flares, can contain billions of tonnes of plasma and magnetic field from the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona.

"The sun is a chaotic place and is often giving off various ejections, whether that's photons, which we see as light, or charged particles, such as electrons and protons that are moving close to the speed of light," explained Koning.

"When we get a particularly strong ejection that's aimed right at Earth ... that's when those charged particles interact with our magnetic field and our atmosphere, and we get aurora."

The northern lights were visible again on Saturday and Sunday, though wildfire smoke and clouds affected Red Deerians' views. Koning said Friday's sky was vibrant with green and red colours.

"If you're out of city limits and you're observing the dark sky, you will see some northern lights relatively often. But what was rare was the fact that we saw all of the colours and not just a pale green or white. We actually saw the wonderful reds coming in really clearly, which was awesome. When I was out viewing, half the sky was covered in colour at one time. It was so bright it was lighting up the field in front of me," said Koning.

Many people are interested in where the different colours come from, Koning added.

"Green and red are both caused by oxygen in our atmosphere interacting with those highly charged particles from the sun," said Koning.

"Oxygen can create two different colours when the oxygen is at different pressure and densities – that happens because of different altitudes. The green is from oxygen that's about 100 to 300 kilometres in altitude and the red is from oxygen that's at 300 to 400 kilometres in altitude."

–With files from The Canadian Press

Sean McIntosh

About the Author: Sean McIntosh

Sean joined the Red Deer Advocate team in the summer of 2017. Originally from Ontario, he worked in a small town of 2,000 in Saskatchewan for seven months before coming to Central Alberta.
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