September 5, 2014
It’s raining like crazy here in Traverse City this morning, so let’s take a trip back to last summer and up to Partridge Bay, just north of Marquette on Lake Superior.
More Lake Superior beauty on Michigan in Pictures.
March 11, 2014
NOAA’s current space weather forecast reports an M Class (moderate) solar flare from solar region AR2002. Spaceweather.com adds that AR2002 has destabilized its magnetic field, making it more likely to erupt, and that NOAA forecasters are estimating a 60% chance of M-class flares and a 10% chance of X-class flares during the next 24 hours. X-class flares are major solar events that can spawn incredible auroras visible far to the south of us, planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. Click to Space Weather for a video of AR2002 development.
While there’s not much chance of a major event, I thought it was interesting that 25 years ago this week, one of the most significant solar storms in memory created a spectacle in the skies as it demonstrated the power and danger of solar weather to modern society. A Conflagration of Storms begins:
On Thursday, March 9, 1989 astronomers at the Kitt Peak Solar Observatory spotted a major solar flare in progress. Eight minutes later, the Earth’s outer atmosphere was struck by a wave of powerful ultraviolet and X-ray radiation. Then the next day, an even more powerful eruption launched a cloud of gas 36 times the size of the from Active Region 5395 nearly dead center on the Sun. The storm cloud rushed out from the Sun at a million miles an hour, and on the evening of Monday, March 13 it struck the Earth. Alaskan and Scandinavian observers were treated to a spectacular auroral display that night. Intense colors from the rare Great Aurora painted the skies around the world in vivid shapes that moved like legendary dragons. Ghostly celestial armies battled from sunset to midnight. Newspapers that reported this event considered the aurora, itself, to be the most newsworthy aspect of the storm. Seen as far south as Florida and Cuba, the vast majority of people in the Northern Hemisphere had never seen such a spectacle. Some even worried that a nuclear first-strike might be in progress.
…Millions marveled at the beautiful celestial spectacle, and solar physicists delighted in the new data it brought to them, but many more were not so happy about it.
Silently, the storm had impacted the magnetic field of the Earth and caused a powerful jet stream of current to flow 1000 miles above the ground. Like a drunken serpent, its coils gyrated and swooped downwards in latitude, deep into North America. As midnight came and went, invisible electromagnetic forces were staging their own pitched battle in a vast arena bounded by the sky above and the rocky subterranean reaches of the Earth. A river of charged particles and electrons in the ionosphere flowed from west to east, inducing powerful electrical currents in the ground that surged into many natural nooks and crannies. There, beneath the surface, natural rock resistance murdered them quietly in the night. Nature has its own effective defenses for these currents, but human technology was not so fortunate on this particular night. The currents eventually found harbor in the electrical systems of Great Britain, the United States and Canada.
You can read on for more about how the storm spawned a power outage in Quebec and pushed US systems to the brink of collapse. If you want to totally geek out on auroral science, check this article out about how the Earth’s magnetosphere actually extends itself to block solar storms.
February 19, 2014
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center reported this morning:
Earth is currently under the influence of a coronal mass ejection (CME) and G2 (Moderate) geomagnetic storming has been observed. This is likely the result of what was expected to be a near miss from an event originally observed on the 14th. This CME has a fairly well-organized magnetic field structure so continued G1 (Minor) to G2 (Moderate) storming is certainly possible. Stay tuned for updates as this event unfolds.
The Aurora Borealis was out last night, and I thought it a good time to share Shawn Malone’s Insider Secrets for Northern Lights that she wrote for the Pure Michigan Blog a couple of months ago:
Michigan has a lot of things going for it when it comes to northern lights viewing, the most important being 1). latitude and 2). relatively low light pollution in many areas. Northern Michigan sits in a great location latitude-wise, as the auroral oval dips further south on nights of stronger auroral activity. The Upper Peninsula is blessed with hundreds of miles of shoreline along the south shore of Lake Superior, which provides some of the best northern lights viewing in the lower 48 due to the very dark night skies. When looking north over Lake Superior, one can see right down to the horizon and take in a 180 degree unobstructed view of the night sky. Getting to a location without the obstruction of a treeline or hills is important at our latitude, as many times an auroral display will sit very low on the horizon. Having a dark night sky with little light pollution is necessary when looking for the northern lights, as the light of the aurora is equal to the brightness of starlight.
People often ask me how I’ve been able to see so many northern lights displays over the years and a lot of it has to do with what I mentioned above. I live in Marquette, Michigan which sits centered on the south shore of Lake Superior, and when looking north there’s nothing but lake for hundreds of miles. Marquette and locations nearby have many areas along the lakeshore still publicly accessible, allowing for the opportunity to view the aurora right from the shoreline.
If you’ve never seen the northern lights and want to maximize your opportunity to do so, learn and pay attention to sunspot activity, as that’s what drives the northern lights.
Read on for tips on where to catch these lights, some more photos from Shawn and her incredible, Smithsonian award-winning video Radiance.
Michigan in Pictures has a TON of Northern Lights information & photos that includes the science and stories of this incredible phenomenon.
December 10, 2013
Marty shared this photo and also some information about the CR510 Pennsylvania Truss Bridge in Marquette County from historicbridges.org:
This is one of the largest, most beautiful, and most significant truss spans in Michigan. Not only does this truss bridge display the Pennsylvania truss configuration, it appears that it may have actually come from the state of Pennsylvania. In 1919, the Michigan State Highway Department purchased the bridge which originally crossed the Allegheny River. Relocating and reusing truss bridges was not unusual in this period of history. An example notice indicating bridges for sale from 1921 is shown to the right. At this time, CR-510 was a state trunk line route and purchasing and relocating this bridge would have been an inexpensive alternative to building a new bridge from scratch. It was erected on the CR-510 location in 1921. The Michigan State Highway Department’s Biennial Report stated that the bridge was one of two toll bridges crossing the Allegheny River within 500 feet of each other and was being removed due to the redundancy. Unfortunately, the report did not state exactly where on the river this bridge came from. Since most of the Allegheny River is in Pennsylvania, it is assumed the bridge came from Pennsylvania, although the Allegheny River does dip into New York State for a short time. Depending on where on the Allegheny River it was originally located, it may have been part of a multi-span bridge.
Pennsylvania truss bridges are an uncommon truss type, and the nature of their design means that they are reserved for longer truss spans. However, even among pin-connected highway Pennsylvania truss spans, this bridge’s span still stands out as fairly long. It is the longest pin-connected highway truss span in Michigan. The truss type is extremely rare in Michigan, and so the bridge has additional significance in the context of Michigan. The bridge also retains excellent historic integrity with minimal alterations despite its long service and being located in two different states over its service life. The bridge has decorative details on its portal bracing, another feature that is rare among Michigan truss bridges.
Read on for more.
More bridges on Michigan in Pictures.
October 15, 2013
Run, don’t walk to watch Shawn’s latest video Radiance. It’s another eye-popping look at the aurora borealis featuring her photos set to “The Opening” from the forthcoming Album: “FOUND” by David Helpling/Jon Jenkins.
Speaking of northern lights, it looks like we have a 25% chance of the aurora over the next 3 days according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.
Speaking of Shawn’s video, after you watch it be sure to check out North Country Dreamland, the 2013 Smithsonian In Motion Video Contest Viewer’s Choice award winner!
The aurora borealis are one of the world’s most rare and wonderful sights and Michigan – especially the Upper Peninsula – is blessed with more than a few nights every year when this elusive phenomenon makes an appearance.
The Library of Congress page What Are the Northern Lights? calls on NASA’s Dr. Sten Odenwald, author of The 23rd Cycle, Learning to Live with a Stormy Star, to provide insight to how northern lights are formed:
The origin of the aurora begins on the surface of the sun when solar activity ejects a cloud of gas. Scientists call this a coronal mass ejection (CME). If one of these reaches earth, taking about 2 to 3 days, it collides with the Earth’s magnetic field. This field is invisible, and if you could see its shape, it would make Earth look like a comet with a long magnetic ‘tail’ stretching a million miles behind Earth in the opposite direction of the sun.
When a coronal mass ejection collides with the magnetic field, it causes complex changes to happen to the magnetic tail region. These changes generate currents of charged particles, which then flow along lines of magnetic force into the Polar Regions. These particles are boosted in energy in Earth’s upper atmosphere, and when they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms, they produce dazzling auroral light.
We focus on the beauty, but as he explains:
“Aurora are beautiful, but the invisible flows of particles and magnetism that go on at the same time can damage our electrical power grid and satellites operating in space. This is why scientists are so keen to understand the physics of aurora and solar storms, so we can predict when our technologies may be affected.”
One benefit from the economic & security concerns of predicting space weather is that you can get some great northern light forecasts. My favorite is NOAA’s Space Weather Service. They reported a G1 storm on March 1st – it’s the lowest intensity on the Space Weather Scales but as you can see is still able to produce auroral activity!
Greg took this photo Saturday night just before midnight at Presque Isle in Marquette – check it out on black and in his slideshow. You can see more of Greg’s work on Michigan in Pictures, at michigannaturephotos.com and definitely follow him at Michigan Nature Photos on Facebook.
January 19, 2013
Bishop Frederic Baraga passed away 145 years ago on January 18, 1868. He was born on June 29, 1797* in the castle of Mala vas in the Northwestern part of Slovenia, and for over half of the 71 years of his life Baraga covered a vast territory of over 80,000 square miles in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada. The history page at the campaign for sainthood of Bishop Baraga explains that:
Father Baraga arrived in the New World on December 31, 1830. For the next 37 years he travelled the length and breath of the Great Lakes area to minister to the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. His first mission (Arbre Croche, 1833-1835) was established along the shore of Lake Michigan at present day Harbor Springs to Cross Village. Fr. Baraga labored two years at Grand River (1833-1835) presently known as Grand Rapids, before moving his mission to LaPointe (1835-1843) and L’ Anse (1843-1853) on Lake Superior. During the summer months, Father Baraga traveled on foot and by canoe. During the winter months, he traveled on snowshoes thus giving him the titles of “Apostle of the Lakelands” and “Snowshoe Priest.” He wrote long and frequent accounts of his missionary activities including a three-volume diary. He also wrote seven Slovenian prayerbooks and authored 20 Native American books which inlcudes his monumental Grammar and Dictionary of the Chippewa Language , still in use today. He was the first bishop to write a pastoral letter in both the English and Chippewa languages.
From 1840 to his death, he ministered to the immigrants who came to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to work in the iron and copper mines of the region. About the same time, he began the practice of rising at 3 a.m. in the summer and 4 a.m. in the winter to spend three hours in prayer, which he continued until the end of his life. His responsibilities grew even greater when he was named bishop of the newly created Vicariate of the Upper Michigan. He was consecrated bishop in Cincinnati on November 1, 1853. The lack of priests and money weighed heavily on his heart. Due to his hard work and dedication, Bishop Baraga was able to report to the Holy See a year before his death that his diocese rested on a firm foundation, with enough priests and churches for the fast-growing area. Sault Ste. Marie was his See City until 1866, at which time he moved to Marquette-a more centrally located and accessible city by both ship and train. In the Fall of 1866 while attending the Council of Baltimore, Bishop Baraga suffered a severe stroke. Afraid that his fellow bishops would not allow his return to the severe climate and remote regions of Lake Superior, he begged the priest who accompanied him (Rev. Honoratus Bourion) to take him back to Marquette. Understanding his bishop wanted to die among his flock, Rev. Bourion practically carried Baraga to the train for the long trip back to Marquette.
There’s a lot more about Baraga there including an excellent tour of Baraga’s life in the Upper Peninsula that I imagine would make a great vacation.
You can have a look at Bishop Baraga right here and read more in the entry for the Venerable Frederic Irenaeus Baraga in Wikipedia where I found the link for an online version of Father Baraga’s 1853 Ojibwe Dictionary. Here’s the direct link to the dictionary. You can read more about the Baraga shrine at Roadside America.
*Coincidentally enough, that’s my birthday too!