The bright light at the end of this country road is actually a remarkably close conjunction of two planets. After sunset on August 27 brilliant Venus and Jupiter almost appear as a single celestial beacon in the night skyscape taken near Lake Wivenhoe, Queensland, Australia.
A spectacular vertical panorama from the southern hemisphere, it shows the central Milky Way near zenith, posed on top of a pillar of Zodiacal light along the ecliptic plane.
Of course Mars and Saturn are near the ecliptic too, just below the galaxy’s central bulge. Above and left of a tree on the horizon, fleeting planet Mercury also adds to the light at the end of the road.
Admire the beauty but fear the beast. The beauty is the aurora overhead, here taking the form of great green spiral, seen between picturesque clouds with the bright Moon to the side and stars in the background. The beast is the wave of charged particles that creates the aurora but might, one day, impair civilization.
Exactly this week in 1859, following notable auroras seen all across the globe, a pulse of charged particles from a coronal mass ejection (CME) associated with a solar flare impacted Earth’s magnetosphere so forcefully that they created the Carrington Event. A relatively direct path between the Sun and the Earth might have been cleared by a preceding CME.
What is sure is that the Carrington Event compressed the Earth’s magnetic field so violently that currents were created in telegraph wires so great that many wires sparked and gave telegraph operators shocks. Were a Carrington-class event to impact the Earth today, speculation holds that damage might occur to global power grids and electronics on a scale never yet experienced.
The featured aurora was imaged last week over Thingvallavatn Lake in Iceland, a lake that partly fills a fault that divides Earth’s large Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
Young suns still lie within dusty NGC 7129, some 3,000 light-years away toward the royal constellation Cepheus. While these stars are at a relatively tender age, only a few million years old, it is likely that our own Sun formed in a similar stellar nursery some five billion years ago.