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Understanding Auroras in Ladakh: A Beginner’s Guide



  Mar 04, 2024

Understanding Auroras in Ladakh: A Beginner’s Guide



Auroras, typically seen in polar regions like the Arctic and Antarctic, made a rare appearance in Ladakh, intriguing observers and scientists alike. This phenomenon, often described as nature’s own celestial ballet, paints the sky with beautiful colors. But what caused this rare event in Ladakh, far from the poles? Let’s delve into the basics.

The Science Behind Auroras

Auroras occur when charged particles from the sun, carried by solar winds, collide with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. This collision energizes particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing them to light up and create the beautiful displays known as auroras. Usually, these displays are confined to the polar regions because the Earth’s magnetic field lines are closest to the surface at the poles.

The Ladakh Phenomenon

In April 2023, Ladakh witnessed this rare spectacle due to a severe geomagnetic storm, a disturbance in the Earth’s magnetosphere caused by intense solar activity. The storm was triggered by a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun, specifically from Active Region 13283. A CME is a significant release of plasma and magnetic field from the Sun’s corona.

This particular CME, launched at a speed of about 1500 km per second, collided with Earth’s magnetic field on April 23, 2023. The collision initiated a geomagnetic storm that escalated to a “G4 severe” classification, creating conditions favorable for auroras to be visible far from the usual polar regions, including in Ladakh.

Why Was This Event So Unusual?

1. Origin from Weak Magnetic Fields: The intensity of the geomagnetic storm was surprising because it originated from a solar region characterized by weak magnetic fields, which are typically not associated with severe geomagnetic storms.
2. Magnetic Helicity and Rotation: A significant factor in this event was the pre-existing magnetized plasma filament in the active region, which underwent changes in magnetic helicity. Additionally, the CME rotated approximately 56 degrees in a clockwise direction as it traveled through space. This rotation aligned the CME’s magnetic fields southward relative to Earth’s, enhancing the storm’s impact and making conditions ripe for auroras to be observed in Ladakh.
3. Importance of Monitoring: The incident underscores the importance of monitoring and analyzing CMEs from their inception to their interaction with Earth. It highlights the complex dynamics of solar eruptions and their potential impacts on Earth.

Role of Space-Based Observatories

The study of this rare aurora in Ladakh emphasizes the need for comprehensive space-based observatories, such as Aditya-L1, India’s first dedicated solar mission. These observatories play a crucial role in enhancing our understanding of solar phenomena and their effects on Earth, including the forecasting of space weather events which can have significant implications for technology and communications on Earth.

In summary, the rare auroras seen in Ladakh offer a fascinating glimpse into the dynamic interactions between the Sun and Earth. Through continued observation and research, scientists aim to unravel more mysteries of our solar system and better predict future geomagnetic storms and their effects on our planet.


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