The Northern Lights have caused amazing light shows in the night sky, but this beautiful phenomenon could actually affect the ozone layer.
Although humans bear most of the responsibility for ozone depletion, observation of a type of aurora known as “isolated aurora” has revealed the cause of ozone depletion from space, charged particles in plasma emitted by solar flares, and coronal mass ejections. He also continued to “nibble” the ozone layer. Until now, the effect of these particles has been only vaguely known.
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) October 23, 2022
To assess the damage caused to the ozone layer by charged particles from space surrounding the Earth, an international team of scientists from Japan, the US and Canada studied the “isolated proton glow”. They found more damage than the simulations predicted, indicating a new factor to consider when assessing damage to the ozone layer.
International collaboration uses auroras to reveal new factor that damages the ozone layer https://t.co/QLkxn5CIp5
— Janice Kyakundwa, PhD (@kyakundwa) October 12, 2022
The team found that the effects of the “isolated aurora” caused a 250-mile (400 km) wide hole in the ozone layer as it exploded below where the aurora occurred. Most of the ozone was gone in about an hour and a half. In their statement, the team explained that scientists did not expect so much ozone to be destroyed by this phenomenon.
Isolated proton auroras may not be as bright as the northern and southern lights, but they are still visible to the human eye.
It is known that the explosion of plasma ignited by the sun brings with it high-energy ions and electrons. These particles end up getting stuck in Van Allen Earth’s inner and outer radiation belts, which prevent the particles from directly bombarding the planet and turning it into a Mars-like desert.
Particles that reach the inner radiation belt can interfere with the Earth’s atmosphere by penetrating the magnetic field lines. Its charge ionizes the atmosphere and produces oxides of nitrogen and hydrogen. Both compounds contribute to ozone loss.
This, in fact, applies only to the ozone layer in the mesosphere, and the most important lower layer, the stratosphere, remains unaffected. However, isolated proton auroras affect the Earth in other ways.
“The fallout of electrons from the Earth’s radiation belt plays an important role in the loss of the ozone layer as a link between space weather and the climate system,” the scientists wrote in the study, which was published Oct. 11 in the journal Scientific Reports.
Although atmospheric ozone damage in the stratospheric ozone layer (often caused by human activities) is rapidly recovering, isolated proton aurorae still influence changes in the atmosphere. Space weather can disrupt satellites and electrical infrastructure, and charged particles also pose a risk to astronauts.
The findings will help scientists predict fluctuations in space weather that could affect the planet’s atmosphere.