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Главная - #СТУДFACTCHECK - Discovering polar wonders: a spectacular northern light in the mid-latitudes of Russia. Is such a miracle possible and how dangerous is it?

Discovering polar wonders: a spectacular northern light in the mid-latitudes of Russia. Is such a miracle possible and how dangerous is it?

On April 24, 2023, NEWSNN.RU published an article about an unusual phenomenon – the
northern lights, which could be seen in the Nizhny Novgorod region. Our team became
interested in this topic and decided to check whether this information is a scientific hoax or
In the article “Dangerous? The reason for the northern lights in Nizhny Novgorod has been
named,” comments Alexey Kiselev called the cause of such an unusual phenomenon for our
latitude “the brightest solar flare” that occurred a week before the event.

Figure 1: screenshot of the article in question
(Source: NEWSNN.RU )

During the interview, the expert noted that at about 10:30 p.m, on April 23, 2023
Nizhny Novgorod residents could see an unusual glow in the sky, light columns and
colored tints. Alexey Kiselyov named as the cause for such an unusual phenomenon
for our latitude the “the brightest solar flare” which occurred a week before the event.

At least 24 federal and regional media outlets simultaneously wrote about the Northern
Lights. Among them were: “Nizhegorodskaya Pravda”, “Vremya N’’, NN.ru, Federal Press,
Vesti Privolzhye” and many others.

Figure 2: screenshot of the article in question
(Source: Время Н)

The Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper also paid attention to this topic, and its journalists
decided to use people’s concerns as an excuse for clickbait and provocative headlines.
However, the article itself names another reason for the appearance of the northern lights,
which does not coincide with the newsnn.ru version – a magnetic storm that began on the
evening of April 23.

Figure 3: screenshot of the article in question
(Source: Комсомольская правда)

Thus, it can be argued that this topic has attracted media interest, and opinions regarding its
cause have been controversial, so its analysis seems relevant.

How is the northern lights formed?

To begin with, we decided to find out: what are the northern lights? What is the process of its
formation? To answer these questions, we turned to an expert – Nikolai Lapin, Associate
Professor of the Department of Mathematics and Mathematical Education at Minin
University, Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, member of the Association of
Teachers of Physics and Astronomy.

The glow occurs because electrons from the solar wind in the upper atmosphere (above
100 km) strike oxygen atoms (atomic oxygen). At this moment, the oxygen atoms become
excited (or rather, the oxygen electrons move to higher levels) and after some time to return
to their normal state, the oxygen emits excitation energy and its electron returns to a stable
orbital. This emitted energy is the light that forms the auroras, — the expert commented.

As a result of these processes, such a colorful glow of different colors appears: green, red,
purple, and so on. This occurs in the polar regions, where magnetic field lines enter the
atmosphere, and the glow region on a planetary scale has the shape of ovals centered near
the magnetic pole, this oval is called an aurora oval.

What factors can influence the visibility of the northern lights?

The fact is that now the Sun is at its maximum activity and therefore coronal mass ejections
often occur. And if such a burst hits the Earth’s magnetosphere, we will be faced with a
geomagnetic storm. As a result, magnetic lines move closer to the equator, and auroras can
be observed in unconventional places, such as southern Russia. And such “southern”
auroras have happened before during years of maximum solar activity, for example, in 2003,
2004 and 2015. It turns out that the most important factor is the power of the flash: that is, in
the polar regions you can see everything well, but in order for it to go lower, for example, to
the latitude of Nizhny Novgorod, the power of the flash must be higher, — the scientist notes.

Figure 4: photo of the auroras in the Nizhny Novgorod region

After a respected expert explained to us aspects of the theory of the origin of the northern
lights, we decided to find out the answers to the main questions: were the northern lights
really in Nizhny Novgorod? Is this possible in our latitudes? Why did this happen and how
dangerous can this phenomenon be?

To answer these questions, we asked experts for comments. The first expert was Ivan
Kuznetsov, acting director of the Institute. V.A. Mikhelson Meteorological Observatory
(Moscow). He confirmed the fact that the observed phenomenon was indeed the northern
lights, which occurred not only within the latitude of the Nizhny Novgorod region, but also
throughout the entire territory of the European part of Russia, including the Krasnodar
Territory and the Volgograd region.

It was caused by a flare that occurred on the Sun a few days earlier. Such bright
auroras are possible at our latitudes not so often – once every few years. Weaker ones
can be seen more often (it all depends on the city light), — commented by
Ivan Kuznetsov.

Egor Tsimerinov, Director of Meteoweb.ru (online magazine about meteorologyand
astronomy) agreed to be our other expert. The expert confirmed the above opinion of
his colleague and noted that the northern lights in Central Russia are observed
regularly, but they are rarely as bright as on the night of April 24, 2023.

As a rule, polar lights (northern lights are only those that occur in the northern
hemisphere) are phenomena observed in high latitudes, where they form the so-called
oval of auroras. However, during magnetic storms, this oval expands, shifting
southward and the auroras can be observed at lower latitudes, — the
scientist commented.

In the course of communicating with our specialists and studying some materials about the
northern lights, we came to the conclusion that northern lights arise due to the interaction of
the Earth’s magnetosphere with solar plasma ejected during a solar flare, or, which occurs
much less frequently, the destruction of a solar prominence. According to Egor Tsimerinov,
the latter happened on April 23, 2023.

As a rule, the danger of a solar flare is determined by its power and position relative to the Earth. If a flare occurs near the central meridian of the solar disk, the mass of plasma ejected by it will enter the Earth’s magnetosphere. If the mass of solar plasma is large enough, it could affect satellites or even electrical substations. But in the case of the magnetic storm on April 23-24, nothing like this happened.

This process is unpredictable. We can only make predictions based on the fact that an outbreak has
occurred. “Then we can say that the northern lights will be visible at certain latitudes. But
again, this is not always accurate. Now solar activity is increasing, so auroras have become
more frequent. But don’t underestimate the fact that there are forecasts that have become
more accessible and, therefore, more people will know about these events, and let’s not
forget about the gadgets that allow us to record everything? — emphasizes expert Nikolai

That is, based on the experts’ answers and our analysis, we can conclude that both
proposed versions are correct, as confirmed by graphs and published articles.

What do objective data say about the event?

Having figured out what the northern lights are, how they are formed and whether they really existed, we decided to confirm all the information received using statistics. To do this, we turned to the information posted on the SpaceWeatherLive website. As you can see in the photo below, the kp-index graph shows
geomagnetic activity. Moreover, it is formed on the basis of research not only in a particular
area, but also in the planet as a whole. According to the SpaceWeatherLive portal, which not
only collects data on space weather, but also creates its archive, on the night of April 23-24
on Earth in April 2023, there really was a surge in electromagnetic activity.

Figure 10: statistics screenshot
Source: SpaceWeatherLive

But what can we say about the reasons?

The media give different dates for solar activity, and one expert linked the northern lights to
the destruction of the prominence on the 23rd. If we turn to the same archive of solar
observations, we can easily see that on April 23 specifically there were neither a large
number of flares nor a sharp change in the background level of X-ray radiation. However,
shortly before the appearance of the northern lights over the Nizhny Novgorod region, these
very processes were recorded.

Figure 11: statistics screenshot
Source: SpaceWeatherLive

At the same time, on April 23, 2023, an increase in the speed of the solar wind was
observed, which may be directly related to the destruction of the prominence, which Egor
Tsimerinov spoke about. That is, we can conclude that both proposed versions are correct,
and this is confirmed by graphs and published articles.

Figure 12: statistics screenshot
Source: SpaceWeatherLive


Based on the information presented, we came to the conclusion that the northern lights are
indeed possible in the latitudes of the Nizhny Novgorod region. This could be seen with the
naked eye on April 23, 2023 at 10:30 p.m. During communication with specialists, it was
stated that it does not pose a danger to the safety of people. Experts and SpaceWeatherLive
data confirmed the version that the northern lights in the Nizhny Novgorod region arose
either due to the destruction of the prominence, or due to solar flares, the number of which
increased several days before the northern lights. Thus, based on expert comments, as well as
analysis of statistical data, we came to the conclusion that this news is real and reliable and
corresponds to the “True” rating.

© Gorshenkova Arina, Zakharova Anastasia, Manina Alyona, Ilyushina Olesya, Bagdasaryan Sergey, Shipunov Dmitry, Pyatnitsyna Julia

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