A huge green dragon that appeared in the sky over Iceland earlier this month came from a hole in the Sun, NASA has claimed.
The incredible dragon-shaped aurora was captured by photographers Jingyi Zhang and Wang Zheng, and selected as NASA’s astronomy picture of the day on February 18.
The celestial display was so enthralling that the photographer’s mother ran out to see it. She can be seen in the foreground of the picture, staring up at the sky in wonder.
NASA explains that the dragon aurora was caused by a hole in the Sun’s corona that expelled charged particles into a solar wind.
This solar wind drifted away from the Sun through space, and was buffeted around the solar system by the magnetic fields of various planets, until it reached the Earth’s magnetsopehere.
When some of the charged particles from the Sun struck the Earth’s atmosphere, they excited atoms which subsequently emitted light, known as aurora.
"Imagine you have a bottle of fizzy drink, and you give it a good shake. This puts lots of energy into the bottle, and when you open it, this energy will be released in a big stream of fizzy bubbles," said Paul O’Mahoney from the University of Dundee in an article for The Conversation .
"In the same way, the protons and electrons from the Sun ‘shake up’ the particles in the atmosphere. Then, the particles let out all that energy in the form of light (instead of bubbles)."
While auroras themselves are not an unusual sight, NASA noted that this Icelandic "dragon" appeared at an unexpected time.
"No sunspots have appeared on the Sun so far in February, making the multiple days of picturesque auroral activity this month somewhat surprising," it said.
However, it was reported earlier this month that a "canyon-shaped hole" had opened up in the Sun’s upper atmosphere, and that this was expected to cause auroras on Earth.
"Arctic sky watchers can expect minor geomagnetic storms and auroras mixed with bright moonlight when the fast-moving stream arrives," reported Space Weather .
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