A NASA intern has discovered a strange and unexpected type of northern lights.
The physics student was looking over three-year-old sky observations from all-sky cameras in Svakbard, Norway, when she spotted the famous natural lights moving in a never-before seen spiral.
This newly observed spiral motion is said to make the lights look similar to a seashell.
People travel from far and wide to try and get a good glimpse of the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights.
They are famed for being a greenish celestial spectacle dancing in the sky and are best observed in places like Norway and Finland.
Each light display is known as an aurora and they are also referred to as the southern lights and polar lights, depending on where they are observed.
Pepperdine University physics student Jennifer Briggs spotted the oddly twisting aurora while interning at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
What makes them even more unusual is that the footage she spotted them on was recorded at a time of relatively calm space weather.
Solar eruptions normally cause auroral activity when energetic particles speed from the sun and react in the Earth’s atmosphere.
However, the twisting motions of the aurora and other data from NASA radars on the ground in Norway have indicated that something else caused the unusual light display.
Briggs presented her findings at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
She explained how a dramatic compression of the Earth’s magnetosphere was observed in data collected around the same time as the unusual light display.
Briggs said: “You can imagine someone punching Earth’s magnetic field.
“There was a massive, but localized compression.”
She added: “Not only have we never seen a compression of this intensity, we’ve never even predicted one.”
Nasa researchers think the type of compression that caused it only happened over the single Norwegian island.
They think it may have been caused by a geomagnetic storm happening for the first time in an area of the Earth’s magnetosphere called the foreshock.
This is why the new type of celestial light display is being called a “foreshock aurora”.
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