Slow coronal mass ejection on Venus: Northern lights on Earth but atmospheric loss on other planets.

April 13, 2015 1:17 AM

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Slow coronal mass ejection on Venus: Northern lights on Earth but atmospheric loss on other planets.

It was the luck of the Irish that some of the best displays of the northern lights of the past decade fell on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. The great shimmering curtains of green electrical light that hung high over the Emerald Isle were a result of Earth being hit by not one but two “coronal mass ejections” at the same time. These great clouds of hot plasma erupted from the atmosphere of the sun on March 14 and tore across interplanetary space toward Earth. They covered the 93 million miles in three days. When they arrived, they dashed upon Earth’s magnetic field, which projects a protective bubble all around us called the magnetosphere. As these coronal mass ejections enveloped the planet, the outer layers of this bubble broke, and particles from the CMEs spiraled in and down along magnetic field lines. These particles, which started their journey in the sun’s atmosphere, ended their voyage by slamming into our atmosphere, causing the air to glow in a beautiful display of the northern (and southern) lights. It took a day or so for the CMEs to pass by, but afterward our magnetosphere regenerated, and everything returned to normal.

Well, as the CME was striking us, it just so happened that I was looking into this very question. I had been looking through data from the European Space Agency’s Venus Express spacecraft and had spotted something very odd. Venus Express arrived at our sister planet back in 2006 and recently burned ...

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