Borealis Aurora here in Tenerife

Local 11FRANCISCO Sanchez, Director of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC), has recalled the dazzling moment he saw the light!

Fifty years ago, Sanchez – also the first professor of Astrophysics in Spain – saw a light from El Teide which, he first believed, was  his research equipment breaking down. In fact, to his astonishment, it was a Borealis Aurora.

The Aurora is an incredible light show caused by collisions between electrically-charged particles, released from the sun, which enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen.

The lights are usually seen around the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.

It was the night of 16th September, 1966, and Sanchez was at the Meteorological Observatory in Izaña, observing the zodiacal light, produced in the medium interplanetary by the scattering of sunlight in the micro-meteorites.

Sanchez said that, at the time, the zodiacal light was the only way to detect what was in the medium interplanetary, and he knew that space probes were just starting to be sent.

To study the zodiacal light, it was necessary to perform a “decontamination” of the rest of lights. And when Sanchez and his assistant did just that, they saw a very strong light emission to the north.

It led to the astrophysicist believing the equipment had been damaged. In fact, he discovered they were Borealis Auroras, after finding that it was not a chemical reaction of solar energy in the atmosphere during the day.

Instead, they were produced by solar particles, colliding with molecules of oxygen and nitrogen from the atmosphere.

Both emit the “same” light. But while the luminescence is like a cloak that covers everything, the Borealis Aurora is “mobile”, said Sanchez.

Sightings of Borealis Auroras are really rare, and astronomer Manuel Vazquez documents that, since 1770, at least 11 have been seen.

But Sanchez says, assuredly, that the zodiacal light can be displayed “pretty good” by the latitudes of the dawn and dusk in the Canaries.


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