Image Source: Flickr. By: Nick Russill

If you’ve ever been far enough north or south in this world, you may have seen the awesome Northern (or Southern) Lights. This dazzling display of shifting colors has been a subject of much mystery for centuries. Some people believed it was a form of spirit contact. Others believed it was a sign or act of a god. Scientists simply believe the phenomenon has to do with fluctuations in solar activity. One thing is for certain: it’s definitely an amazing site to behold.

Now, why am I talking about these Lights? Well, solar activity has been on the rise and as such, more opportunities are presenting themselves for people to view the Northern Lights. This also means that more mysteries are presenting themselves to be explored. Per-Arne Mikalsen took advantage of one of these opportunities and photographed an aurora over Andenes, Norway. One of the photos taken showed an unidentifiable, green parachute-like object. Usually, a photographer such as Mikalsen, would dismiss the spot as a lens flare or spot on the lens; some common photography or camera mishap. This time, it simply wasn’t so.

It should be noted that Mikalsen has worked on aurora study for many years in the Andoya Rocket Range and has seen all types of auroras, so he is quite familiar with how they look, move and so forth. As for the mysterious green object, according to a correspondence from lead scientist at the Tromso Geophysical Observatory, Truls Lynne Hansen:

“Usually such aberrations appear when there is a small and intense source of light in the field of view, or at least so close that the light from it hits the lens. That seems not to be the case here.” … “Additionally, the color of the ‘phenomenon’ is the same as the color in the aurora, the auroral green line from atomic oxygen; so the ‘phenomenon’ is either a genuine auroral feature or a reflection of auroral light somewhere in space.”

Where, exactly, could an auroral light (or reflection of one) come from in space? One great possibility is from a satellite and satellite flares are certainly not unknown amongst astronomers. The flare comes from a satellite passing overhead at the right moment—when the sunlight can easily bounce off the spacecraft’s antennae or solar panels and reflect towards the Earth. Iridium communication satellites are well-known for producing flares, as their antennae are about the size of a door and act like orbital mirrors.

Can an aurora produce a light strong enough to bounce off a nearby satellite, in order to create such a reflection? Maybe. Hansen explains:

“The intensity of an intense aurora is not far from the intensity of moonlight, which is 1/100,000 of sun’s light, and the solar Iridium flares apparently are several orders of magnitude stronger than this ‘auroral flare’; so, the intensity does not immediately exclude the satellite reflection hypothesis.”

It can be safely said at this point that the science world is not 100% sure what, exactly, the green spot is, or what caused it. Is it an auroral flare? Is it a lens spot or perhaps a glitch in the camera? Or is it some yet undiscovered space phenomenon? Further study of the photos and the Northern Lights are definitely in order. If you ever have a chance to see the lights, do so. It’s one star-studded show you don’t want to miss.

Oh, and out of simple curiosity, what do you think the mysterious green object is?