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AU astrophysicist explains the red glow in the night sky
10/25/11

Those out and about Monday night may have seen a red glow in the night sky. It was an aurora, explains David Toot, professor of physics and director of the Stull Observatory at Alfred University.

The Weaver All Sky Camera, mounted next to one of the domes at the Stull Observatory, captured images of the aurora. "The colors represented in the photograph can be exaggerated because the camera is more sensitive than the human eye," Toot explained. He said the images looked very similar to what he saw on North Hill in Wellsville last night, only a brighter.

"Aurorae are complicated, but the basics are that a storm on the Sun sends a blast wave out the Earth" Toot said. "The Earth’s magnetic field is buffeted by that blast wave, and accelerates particles along the field. The field channels these particles into the magnetic poles, where they smack into the atmosphere and via ionization and excitation cause nitrogen and oxygen atoms to emit light. Nitrogen is responsible for the red (light) and oxygen for the green."

The Stull Observatory at Alfred University, considered to be one of the finest teaching observatories in the nation, is open to the public from 9-11 p.m. Fridays, weather permitting. The sky must be clear.