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Why aurora borealis can’t be seen in PH

by Joanna Deala

Recently updated on May 18, 2024 02:17 pm

THE NIGHT sky in some parts of the globe recently lit up. It was not because of booming fireworks or human-made light shows but because of aurora borealis, also known as northern lights.

In photos shared by Voice of America, the aurora borealis became visible over several places in Michigan and Idaho in the United States, and in Russia on May 11, as well as in British Columbia and near London, Ontario in Canada on May 10.

A few days after the reported sightings of the aurora borealis in other countries, a Filipino netizen posted a video of Metro Manila’s night sky shining bright in pink. The online user said in a separate video that they spotted the pink light in the night sky on May 13 at around 10:45 p.m. in Pasay City.

In the text, the netizen claimed, “Ang creepy ng kalangitan. Aurora Borealis in the Philippines.”

But other than illuminating the sky with bright colors, what really is the aurora borealis and is it possible for us to witness it in the country?

How does it occur?

Auroras occur when the solar wind, which carries charged particles that the sun ejected, hits Earth’s ionosphere or upper atmosphere, according to Space.com.

When aurora occurs in the northern hemisphere, it is called the aurora borealis. But if it’s in the southern hemisphere, it is called the aurora australis or the southern hemisphere.

Photo courtesy: Pexels

The aurora borealis is a sight to see, appearing in different bright colors like green, pink, dark red, blue, purple, and yellow. 

In an interview with republicasia, astronomer Edmund Rosales explained that the colors of an aurora are determined by gases in the atmosphere.

“Merong specific part ng atmosphere, yung tinatawag na ionosphere, may charged particles din yon. ‘Pag nagsama silang dalawa, kung ano yung gas na nandoon sa taas niya, sa area na ‘yon, yung iilaw,” Rosales shared.

“Alam naman natin ‘di ba, marami tayong oxygen, may nitrogen. Yung color green na nakikita natin, nitrogen ‘yon sa atmosphere,” he added.

NASA said oxygen and nitrogen may produce green, red, or blue lights. Meanwhile, the combination of the different amounts of gases can emit purple, pink and white lights.

Is it visible in PH?

But is the pink light in the night sky that the Pinoy netizen captured in Pasay really the aurora borealis? Rosales thinks otherwise.

The astronomer said that the pink light in the sky could be a reflection of light only.

“Unang-una, napakataas. Kung mataas ‘yon, eh bakit walang report ng Taiwan? Walang report ang China? Mas mababa tayo,” he pointed out.

“Tapos masyadong mataas yung ilaw na ‘yon. Masyadong mataas at masyadong malapad. Kasi nga gabi, hindi mo nakikitang may clouds ‘yon sa gabi,” he added. “Hindi niya nakikita yung light source sa baba, pero makikita mo nagre-reflect yung light source sa cloud, tapos hindi rin naman natin kaagad madaling makita rin yung clouds kaya nakita lang natin yung reflection so napagkamalan siya [na aurora borealis].”

Rosales said that it’s impossible to see the aurora borealis in the Philippines because the country is near the equator, where the magnetic field is strong. The aurora borealis can often be seen in countries in the Arctic Circle such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, U.S., Canada, Denmark, and Iceland.

When the magnetic storm is strong, the astronomer said that the aurora borealis may reach the midlatitude, resulting in more countries seeing the natural phenomenon.

Photo courtesy: Pexels

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported a strong geomagnetic storm this month. The space weather forecasters said they observed at least seven coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the sun, with the first of several CMEs reaching the Earth on May 10.

Xinhua News Agency released a photo featuring the sighting of the aurora borealis near Nanshan scenic spot in Urumqi in northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on May 11.

Is it a threat?

Rosales said that the aurora borealis does not pose a threat to humans, but it can have negative effects on technology and infrastructure.

One notable adverse impact of the natural phenomenon that Rosales mentioned was the magnetic storm in 1989 that caused a nine-hour blackout in Canada. 

The aurora borealis could also interrupt signals, he said.

“Pangalawa, sa TV [television]. ‘Pag nanonood tayo, sa communication, yung signal, ‘di ba minsan paputol-putol? Minsan may lalabas na lang halimbawa nakalagay ‘solar storm ogoing.’ ‘Yun yung effect,” the astronomer explained.

While it would be nice to witness the northern lights, Rosales said that it might be a blessing in disguise that we don’t have aurora borealis sightings to avoid problems like power interruptions.



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