Ancient Texts Help Researchers Learn More About Low-Latitude Auroras

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Auroras have been around for millions of years, so it’s no wonder that ancient texts have mentioned these amazing events. Usually, these light displays only happen at the poles, but every once in a while a severe geomagnetic storm can cause them to appear in other parts of the globe. So, when it did, it was quite the spectacle for those who observed them.

Researching Ancient Low-Latitude Auroras

While humans now know these strange events were auroras, that wasn’t the case until recently. Historical documents describe a strange and terrifying event in Japan in 1859 when the sky was burning!

A similar event was described as red vapor in the northern sky in September 1770. The event was ascribed to faraway fires, while on account talks about white rod-like stripes that appeared in the red vapor and covered half of the sky. Some people decided the world was ending; others thought they were watching divine dances and praying to Buddha.

Super Auroras Leave Signs

Auroras appear when charged particles from the sun or outer space travel down Earth’s magnetic field lines and interact with atmospheric gases that make them give off colors. For example, red and green are the colors given off by interaction with oxygen, while purple and blue are the result of rays meeting nitrogen.

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There are numerous descriptions of such unusual auroras from Europe — but not as many from Asia. A team of Japanese researchers set out to compile all available records to shed more light on how people noted the unusual phenomenon over the centuries. They also discovered that superflares leave signatures in tree rings and that helped them identify an incredible 14 events. They also found possible descriptions of auroras from as early as 652 B.C.E.

As the team has widened its research, it expects to find many other events described in ancient texts like unusual rainbows, white rainbows, red fogs, strange mists, and more. The data by historical observers will be crucial for them to help scientists better understand the solar cycle.