A gargantuan green dragon hisses in the sky over Iceland. Either “Game of Thrones” really upped its production budget for its final season, or the sun belched a barrage of charged particles into our atmosphere again.
As much as any of us would like to see a real dragon breathe flames into the winter sky, buzzkill NASA blames solar activity — as usual — for the writhing, “fire-breathing”- aurora that loomed over Iceland earlier this month.
Auroras like this occur when some of the sun’s many magnetic field lines twist together and burst, creating sunspots. Charged particles gush out of these spots and soar on the solar wind deep into space. If Earth happens to be in the way of such a stellar energy storm, the particles crash into our planet’s own magnetic field and careen through our atmosphere toward the poles. Along the way, those particles interact with molecules of oxygen, nitrogen and other elements in our atmosphere to create the dazzling light show we call the aurora.