The International Space Station was 253 miles above British Columbia on January 20, 2016 when a crewmember captured this breathtaking image of an auroral display over northern Canada. Barely five percent of the world’s population has directly observed an aurora. It’s not that they are terribly rare events, it’s just that they only form where the solar wind interacts with the poles of Earth’s magnetosphere. It’s pretty cold there, and for some reason everybody wants to live where it’s warm.
Once in a while the Sun will belch a tremendous cloud of charged particles outward in our direction. If this Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) is large enough the auroral display may expand further toward the equator, well beyond its usual theater of visibility, maybe even as far as your town.
As great as that sounds, auroral events are also reminders that the relationship between the Earth and the Sun is imperfect. One very high-energy CME could decimate our electrical and communications infrastructures, inflicting damage that could take years to repair.