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No. 117: May-June 1998

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Flash Auroras

Flash auroras are ephemeral auroral displays lasting only a few seconds. They occur when auroral and geomagnetic activity is subdued worldwide. Under such quiet conditions, scientists do not expect to see auroras of any kind. Yet, experienced aurora observers keep on reporting these transient events.

June 13/14, 1987. Winnipeg, Saskatche wan. T. Lohvinenko saw a fragmentary active rayed arc in a clear sky at 0644 UT. It lasted for only a few seconds.

February 13/14, 1991. Near Glasgow, Scotland. While facing south, A. Simmons observed rays and a luminous patch at an altitude of 45. The phenomenon lasted 2 minutes.

In both of the above instances, the geomagnetic field was quiet and auroral activity virtually zero worldwide.

"It is unprofitable at this stage to speculate on the cause or causes of the mid-latitude flash aurora as it is known in the Aurora Section. More authenticated observations need to be built up before they can become statistically meaningful. The geomagnetosphere is a very dynamic and restless organism in which some instability may develop to cause what, in engineering parlance, might be referred to as a short circuit in the magnetospheric dynamo."

(Livesey, R.J.; "The Flash Aurora," British Astronomical Association, Journal, 107:36, 1997.)

From Science Frontiers #117, MAY-JUN 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987