If you’ve ever seen the aurora borealis, you know what a spectacular sight it can be. You also know it’s all about location, location, location. The northern lights are generally only visible in the more northern latitudes, but this week, many people were seeing these amazing displays as far south as Georgia and Alabama. Why was this aurora event visible to so many?
The chain of events that caused the lights started as early as 9:36 p.m. on Friday, with the occurrence of a Coronal Mass Ejection. These CMEs are large eruptions of positively charged ions and negatively charged electrons from the sun that travel through space, sometimes heading toward the Earth. They can occur at any time, but typically, these events are more common during periods of high solar activity. From now until 2013, there will be a solar maximum, or a peak in solar activity, meaning we will likely see more events like these CMEs, as well as sunspots and solar flares.
Amateurs sending rockets and balloons to the edge of space isn't unusual, but that doesn't make the launches and the images and data they return any less awesome. Derek Deville, an iReporter and 15-year amateur rocket enthusiast, sent his rocket to 121,000 feet before it parachuted home. The rocket, called Qu8k, was competing for the John Carmack prize, which awards $5,000 to the team able to send a rocket to over 100,000 feet and recover it.
Deville says Qu8k reached the required altitude, but that on-board GPS failed to record the data as the competition's rules require.
See the full iReport, including a link to on-board video.