Aurora in Chicago

Between May 10 – 14, 2024 a series of powerful solar storms led to the production of visible aurorae far further towards the equator than normal. This photo was taken by CIERA Postdoctoral Fellow Sharan Banagiri.

Banagiri captured this photo between 9 and 10PM on May 10 at Hollywood Beach in Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. When clouds cleared for an hour, Banagiri headed towards Lake Michigan in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the aurorae. They were faint and appeared gray at first, but slowly the greens, then pinks and purples emerged and remained vibrant.

Aurorae are caused by energized particles generated by solar wind interacting with Earth’s magnetic field. The color of the auroral emission corresponds to the elements involved, which depend on atmospheric altitude. Red and purple emissions are visible from higher altitudes (>300km), and involve interactions with less concentrated oxygen molecules. Yellow/green aurorae are characteristic of interactions with more concentrated oxygen at lower altitudes (100-300km).

“As gorgeous as the auroras themselves were, I think what was even more wonderful was how global this was”, said Banagiri. “Photos of Aurora were everyone on social media, from friends all over the globe. For a day, we all came together to take in and be mesmerized by this show that Mother Nature put on for us.”

Dr. Banagiri’s research is broadly focused on studying the astrophysics of compact objects, i.e. black holes and neutron stars from a data-driven perspective. He is broadly interested in gravitational-wave physics and data analysis methods for extracting astrophysical and cosmological information from them. He is also interested in upcoming GW detectors, especially Cosmic Explorer and LISA. He is a member of the LIGO scientific collaboration and the LISA consortium.

Credit: Sharan Banagiri/CIERA/Northwestern

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