Amateur sky-gazers in Finland have discovered a new type of Northern Lights in the upper atmosphere.
Working with space researchers at the University of Helsinki, hobbyists have named the phenomenon ‘dunes’, and it’s believed to be caused by waves of oxygen atoms glowing in a stream of particles released by the sun.
For anyone looking to the sky, the new ‘dunes’ Northern Lights appear as a green-tinged and even pattern of waves resembling a striped veil of clouds – or dunes on a sandy beach.
The discovery happened after amateur aurora borealis watchers were comparing certain phenomenon they had photographed with pictures in a 2018 book by Helsinki University Professor Minna Palmroth.
Some of their images didn’t match anything that appeared in the book, so they contacted Professor Palmroth about it.
“One of the most memorable moments of our research collaboration was when the phenomenon appeared at that specific time and we were able to examine it in real time” explains amateur astronomist Matti Helin.
“It was like piecing together a puzzle or conducting detective work […] every day we found new images and came up with new ideas. Eventually, we got to the bottom of it” he says.
The phenomenon was photographed at the same time in both Laitila and Ruovesi, southwest Finland, with the same detail observed in both images – the position of stars in the photographs helped astronomers calculate the altitude and extent of the phenomenon.