Bill Nye the Science Guy Explains Northern Lights Solar Storm on CNN | Video

“If the orbit of the Earth is in the place where those things are shooting, we get zapped,” he says of this weekend’s abundant aurora borealis

On Friday and Saturday, photos of the Northern Lights reaching as far south as Alabama spread online — the result of a rare extreme solar storm that crossed North America, with added visibility of the aurora borealis on Friday and Saturday nights. CNN invited Bill Nye (the Science Guy) to explain the natural phenomenon to its audience.

Nye said that while “we might think of the sun as a solid object or a disk,” it is actually always spinning. “About every month,” Nye continued, “the northern and southern parts of the sun, what humans call the north and south parts of the sun, spin a little faster than the middle.”

“And this friction and this interaction with all the gases that make up the outer layers of the sun create these crazy, strong magnetic fields,” Nye added. Those fields can result in charged particles being tossed into space, “And so we have both these solar flares where these zaps of electromagnetic energy, photons that you can see.”

Those same particles can shoot out of the sun, and “if the orbit of the Earth is in the place where those things are shooting, we get zapped.”

Nye referenced the Carrington Event of 1859, the most intense geomagnetic storm in recorded history. As a result, auroras were seen around the world and telegraph systems in North America and Europe stopped working.

Nye added that the magnetic field is the key to everything. “Inside the Earth is this churning molten iron and nickel, and it creates this magnetic field that enables your compass to work,” he said. “And so this is what causes the charged particles to come down at the North and South Pole, down toward the middle of the Earth.”

“And it’s the speed of those particles passing through the atmosphere that creates the aurorae, the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis. And so it’s fantastic,” Nye said.

While the resulting aurora are beautiful to behold, Nye pointed out that the events are something we should take into consideration when evaluating our electric grid. As he put it, “The sun doesn’t take a meeting about when it’s going to produce one of these things.”

Watch the interview with Bill Nye in the video above.

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