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 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.
January 14, 2013
The Space Weather Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that minor to moderate auroral activity is likely through January 20th. Translation? Northern Lights are likely this week!
Much (much) more Aurora Borealis information & photos on Michigan in Pictures!
December 8, 2012
Welcome to the “Spot the Geminid Meteor” edition of Michigan in Pictures! EarthSky’s Meteor Shower Guide for 2012 says that the last meteor shower of 2012 will be the Geminids, peaking late night December 13 until dawn December 14:
The final major meteor shower of every year (unless one surprises us!) is always the December Geminid shower, often producing 50 or more meteors per hour. It is a beloved shower, because, as a general rule, it’s either the August Perseids or the December Geminids that give us the most prolific display of the year. Best of all, the new moon guarantees a dark sky on the peak night of the Geminid shower (mid-evening December 13 until dawn December 14). But the nights on either side of the peak date should be good as well. Unlike many meteor showers, you can start watching the Geminids by 9 or 10 p.m. local time. The peak might be around 2 a.m. local time on these nights, because that’s when the shower’s radiant point is highest in the sky as seen around the world. With no moon to ruin the show, 2012 presents a most favorable year for watching the grand finale of the meteor showers. Best viewing of the Geminids will probably be from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. on December 14.
Click through for some meteor viewing tips and here’s hoping for another Aurora Borealis/Geminid combo!
Paul shot this north of Lansing in December 2006 when the Geminid shower was complimented by a fantastic Northern Lights display! Can you see the meteor a little right of center? Click to view on black, see more in his The Night Sky slideshow or view all 80 photos from the evening in his December 14, 2006 gallery.
December 4, 2012
Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light says that the plan for the Cheboygan Crib Light that was drawn-up by the District Engineer called for a round crib with an octagonal cast iron pierhead beacon centered upon it.
Work began with the construction of a wooden crib onshore in Cheboygan, which was then lowered into the water and towed out to the specified location at the entrance to the dredged river channel. Sunk in place with the addition of crushed rock, an upper level consisting of oak timber framework was then constructed atop the crib, with a basement oil storage room beneath the location in which the tower was to be installed. The deck of this superstructure was then leveled at a height of eleven feet above the water, planked with timber and fitted with a circular oak ring centered over the oil storage room to serve as an anchoring foundation for the cast iron tower itself.
…One can only imagine the drudgery involved for the keepers who manned this station. Every afternoon he would have to leave the safety of the dwelling in Cheboygan and row the 1/4 mile out to the light in whatever weather the lake was dishing-up that day. On arrival at the crib, he would carefully secure his boat at the foot of the crib, and then gingerly step from the heaving boat onto the eleven foot ladder, climbing up to the deck while simultaneously carrying any supplies needed for the night. The lamp would illuminated at dusk, and the keeper would then sit in the solitude of the tower, huddled close to the stove to keep warm on cold nights during the late season, making frequent climbs to the lantern to adjust the light by trimming the wick, winding the occulting mechanism and adding fuel to the lamp. As dawn finally raised its head across the Straits of Mackinac, the lamp would be extinguished, and the illuminating apparatus, lens and lantern would be cleaned in preparation for illumination later that day. The keeper would then row the ¼ mile back to shore to get some sleep, knowing that he would have to back out on the crib to repeat the cycle a few short hours later.
Sounds like a wonderful job. Read lots more about the light from Terry Pepper.
October 1, 2012
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (a great resource for alerts on the aurora borealis) reports that the Earth remains under the influence of a September 27 coronal mass ejection (CME) that has reached the G3 (Strong) level. They say that auroral activity is possible through tonight, and they were seen last night at least as far south as Cadillac!
Last night Xavist Zhao caught these amazing northern lights over the Michigan Tech’s Amjoch Observatory. Check them out on black and see more including a couple more from last night in his Space & Astronomy slideshow.
Much more in our northern lights category on Michigan in Pictures!
August 11, 2012
Happy Saturday – I hope that lots of you are getting out to see the Perseid meteor shower tonight and tomorrow night!
Cory took this a couple of weeks ago in another auroral outburst in what has been a great year for the northern lights in Michigan.