May 6, 2013
Last night I got an alert of a moderately strong solar flare with the possibility of generating northern lights. When I went looking to see if anyone had photographed them, I discovered that Michigan in Pictures regular Shawn Malone has just released a truly stunning video featuring a series of time-lapses of the night skies of northern Michigan! She writes:
Rare pairings caught on camera include ribbons of aurora above a full moon fogbow on the horizon of Lake Superior, the aurora and an isolated singular lightning storm cloud over Lake Superior, and the aurora and Milky Way in several scenes including Copper Harbor, Marquette, Isle Royale, Pictured Rocks, and Eagle Harbor Lighthouse.
…All scenes are within 200 miles or so of my home in Marquette, Mi. and I feel very blessed to live where I do and to share the beauty that I see ‘in my own backyard’ with you. I hope it inspires others to take time to find the beauty that is everywhere around us and also to raise an awareness about the importance of preserving our night wondrous starlit skies.
The shot above is one of 33 different scenes in the video and shows Miners Castle in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. See it bigger in the video and see a lot more on the Lake Superior Photo Facebook.
Much more from Shawn on Michigan in Pictures.
Today’s Space Weather Forecast says that there’s chance for R1 – R2 (minor – moderate) solar radio blackouts are possible through 26 April due to solar Region 1726 which will rotate off the visible disk on or about 26 April.
Much (much) more about the aurora borealis including how weather on the sun impacts the northern lights on Michigan in Pictures.
April 15, 2013
The Lyrid Meteor Shower at spaceweather.com explains that:
Every year in late April Earth passes through the dusty tail of Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), and the encounter causes a meteor shower–the Lyrids. This year the shower peaks on Saturday night, April 21st. Forecasters expect 10 to 20 meteors per hour, although outbursts as high as 100 meteors per hour are possible.
Lyrid meteors appear to stream from the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra. In fact, Lyrids have nothing to do with Vega. The true source of the shower is Comet Thatcher. Every year in April, Earth plows through Thatcher’s dusty tail. Flakes of comet dust, most no bigger than grains of sand, strike Earth’s atmosphere traveling 49 km/s (110,000 mph) and disintegrate as streaks of light.
Lyrid meteors are typically as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper, which is to say of middling brightness. But some are more intense, even brighter than Venus. These “Lyrid fireballs” cast shadows for a split second and leave behind smokey debris trails that linger for minutes.
Occasionally, the shower intensifies. Most years in April there are no more than 5 to 20 meteors per hour during the shower’s peak. But sometimes, when Earth glides through an unusually dense clump of comet debris, the rate increases.
There’s no way of knowing whether or not this would be a big year, but I’d say that with the Iron Lady’s recent passing, there’s a chance! FYI, Comet Thatcher was named by A.E. Thatcher way back in 1861.
Nobody I know caught the Northern Lights Saturday night, but I thought that Cory’s photo taken when he went looking for Lyrids on April 22, 2012 would be the next best thing! Check it out on black and see more in his Space slideshow.
March 20, 2013
EarthSky.org is a fantastic site for all things astronomical, and their post detailing everything you need to know about Comet PANSTARRS has great info on the first of 2013 major comets. The comet was discovered by the PANSTARRS telescope in Hawaii and they explain that:
Comet PANSTARRS is still visible through binoculars in the Northern Hemisphere, if you know right where to look. Note where the sun sets in the west. Some 60 to 75 minutes after sundown, seek for the comet about two to three binocular fields to the right, or upper right, of the sunset point on the horizon. Comet PANSTARRS now sets at nightfall or very early evening at mid-northern latitudes. From here on out, the comet will dim a bit day by day, while the waxing moon will brighten daily. So it’s hard to say how much longer Comet PANSTARRS will be readily visible through binoculars. Each day, Comet PANSTARRS goes a few degrees northward (to the right) on the sky’s dome, toward the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen.
…No matter how bright it gets in March, the comet will surely fade as April arrives, as it moves away from the sun and back out into the depths of space. But it will be located far to the north on the sky’s dome and will be circumpolar for northerly latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. That means it might be visible somewhere in the northern sky throughout the night for northern observers. What’s more, the comet will be near in the sky to another beautiful and fuzzy object in our night sky, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the nearest large spiral galaxy to our Milky Way. If the comet truly is bright then, and if it still has a substantial tail, it’ll be an awesome photo opportunity!
Ken shot this last weekend. You can see it on black, check out the sunset he captured before this and see more great work in his Night Sky slideshow. If you’re looking to purchase this or other shots, definitely head over to KenScottPhotography.com!
More nighttime photography on Michigan in Pictures.
March 13, 2013
Last week on Michigan in Pictures for a post titled Heavy (space) Weather, I referenced The 23rd Cycle:Learning to live with a stormy star by Dr. Sten Odenwald. This out-of-print book is available online for free and explores the impact of solar storms upon our electromagnetic grid. Chapter 1 is titled A Conflagration of Storms, and it begins with an account of one of the most memorable aurora borealis I’ve ever experienced:
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.
While I couldn’t find photos from ’89 of these amazing northern lights, I was able to get a really cool photo from one of Michigan’s best aurora photographers, Shawn Malone. About the display above from November 14, 2012 she writes:
I think this photo is my favorite to date. It felt like years of observing and photographing resulted in the reward of being able to catch this image. Beautiful place, right time, right conditions, and a great geomagnetic event materialized!
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.
February 15, 2013
A line from one of my favorite Paul Simon tunes is a good enough excuse to share this cool video of the band Galactic featuring Corey Glover performing 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.
More from Ann Arbor on Michigan in Pictures.
February 7, 2013
Shawn Malone (follow her at Lake Superior Photo on Facebook) explains that this shot of the Mackinac Bridge was a long exposure where the wind went from calm to a 15-20 mph gust during the exposure, producing that crazy texture on the water – almost like a double exposure.
More of the Mackinac Bridge on Michigan in Pictures.
January 21, 2013
Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I hope you have today off. I also hope that you get a little time to reflect on the continuing quest for equality for all, here in Michigan and all over the planet. Until we all have equal rights, it doesn’t seem to me like we can truly count ourselves successful.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” To honor his words of inspiration and encouragement, the Michigan Community Service Commission (MCSC) asks you to mark January 21, 2013 on your calendar for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. The MLK Day of Service was initiated by Congress in 1994 and has been developed beyond a federal holiday honoring Dr. King into a national day of community service. In honor of this special day, thousands of service projects will be planned across the country grounded in Dr. King’s teachings of nonviolence and social justice.
File that page away for next year as you can seek small grants from the state for events that engage volunteers in community projects and head over to MLKday.gov to find projects in your community.