Do the northern lights pose a danger to us?

If you missed seeing the northern lights in the sky last May, the spectacle will happen again at the beginning of June.
The sunspot responsible for this phenomenon faces the Earth again.
Although the festival of colors is stunning, it can also be dangerous.

The Northern Lights provide a stunning spectacle in the sky. The most prominent night festival of colors lit up part of Europe and Africa last May, while this astronomical phenomenon is usually limited to the poles and the highest latitudes. The northern lights are the result of solar storms and behind the magical spectacle hides another truth: “There is danger behind this beauty“, warns Quentin Versberen, coordinator of the Space Security Program at the European Space Agency, to AFP.

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The northern lights can burn out power grids

When a solar flare occurs, the Sun ejects some energetic particles. When it reaches the Earth's atmosphere, it interacts with the gases that make it up, and luminous clouds appear, giving the impression that they are dancing in the sky. In a 20-minute interview, Miho Janvier, an astrophysicist from the Institute of Space Astrophysics (Université Paris-Saclay, CNRS), who specializes in the physics of the sun and solar storms, explains that solar storms occur “The resonance of the Earth's magnetic cocoon and magnetosphere and fluctuations in this magnetic field cause geomagnetic storms on our planet.However, these storms can seriously disrupt electrical grids, satellites and “s“Accompanying communications or GPS problems”. In fact, they create an electrical charge that can overload power grids. To overcome these problems, countries closer to the poles, such as Canada or Sweden, had to strengthen their networks.

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Northern Lights and radiation danger

According to Miho Janvier, geomagnetic storms “It may be accompanied by a slightly higher radiation intensity“However, there is no danger to humans when they are on the ground. On the other hand, “This can be dangerous when you are on flights that pass near the poles, because you could receive a higher dose of radiation.Mike Pettoy of the US Space Weather Prediction Center explained to AFP that the radiation that accompanies the aurora borealis can “It is likely to pass through the body of an aircraft near the North Pole“Rest assured, if you fly in this area just once, there will be practically no impact. On the other hand, it may be more important for the flight crew on these aircraft.


Sabine Buchol for TF1 information

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