Auroras Most well known as the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights), auroras are some of the most beautiful naturally occurring phenomenon that our planet has to offer. Earth possesses a magnetic field, basically an electric dipole (having both North and South) tilted at 11 degrees with respect to the rotational axis. Auroras are caused by radiation from the sun, known as solar wind, interacting with this magnetic field. Charged ions are produced in the sun’s corona, and are added to the solar wind. The magnetic field is strongest at Earth’s poles, and that is why auroras are typically confined to these regions. Charged particles form the sun occasionally get caught in Earth’s magnetic field as they pass by and interact. Once they are trapped in the upper atmosphere, they react with other gases and produce the famous lights. Collisions between the highly charged solar wind particles and atmospheric molecules causes energy emission, visible as light. Electrons in the molecules are excited to higher energy levels and then release photons when they fall back to lower energy levels. Each different reaction, causes by different ions colliding with air particles, causes a different color to result. For example, neutral nitrogen particles will create a purple-pink color, while ionic nitrogen results in a blue color. The most common aurora, a yellowish-green color, is causes by an ion crashing into oxygen at low altitudes.
A nearby star in our galaxy is pummeling a companion planet with massive amounts of X-rays, roughly 100,000 times the amount that reach earth from our sons. The X-rays are so powerful that they are actually evaporating 5 million tons of matter every second. The planet (known as CoRoT-2b) is roughly 1,000 times the size of earth.
The image to the left is actually the star and the image to the right is an artists rendition of how this phenomenon may actually appear.
Kepler-16b: A Planet with Two Suns
Illustrated Video Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, T. Pyle; Acknowledgement: djxatlanta
Explanation: If you stay up long enough, you can watch both suns set. Such might be a common adage from beings floating in the atmosphere of Kepler 16b, a planet recently discovered by the space-based Kepler satellite. The above animated video shows how the planetary system might look to a visiting spaceship. Although multiple star systems are quite common, this is the first known to have a planet. Because our Earth is in the orbital plane of both stars and the planet, each body is seen to eclipse the others at different times, producing noticeable drop offs in the amount of light seen. The frequent eclipses have given Kepler 16b the most accurate mass and radius determination for a planet outside our Solar System. To find a planet like Saturn in an orbit like Venus — so close to its binary star parents — was a surprise and will surely become a focus of research.