November 14, 2013
This EarthSky article on the Pleiades gives some great lore and viewing tips and says that:
In our Northern Hemispheres skies, the Pleiades cluster is associated with the winter season. It’s easy to imagine this misty patch of icy-blue suns as hoarfrost clinging to the dome of night. Frosty November is often called the month of the Pleiades, because it’s at this time that the Pleiades shine from dusk until dawn. But you can see the Pleiades cluster in the evening sky well into April.
November is also the month of the Aurora, delivering some of the best northern lights action. Kevin took this photo during one of the best solar storms in the last several decades on November 10, 2004. He wrote the following (in part) after viewing these lights:
It was a Dark and (Solar) Stormy Night. Stormy with shafts and rays of light streaming from the heavens.
We all knew there was a chance of another auroral display tonight. We were waiting. And then around 10:30pm or so (from Grand Rapids), the wait was over. This time I went out with my brother, taking back roads and such until we finally found a great spot in northeastern Kent County. We ended up off Old Belding Rd on Lessiter Rd, which is on the way to the Grattan Raceway.
The road faced north, so we were shooting right down the middle of it. There were some clouds around to the north, but nothing too bothersome. Most of the action was to the northeast, with not much seen in the way of color except green, and an occasional red and blue. There were curtains, rays, shafts, and some really good pulsing going on.
I of course used my 35mm film camera, and my brother had his Canon Digital SLR. I was a tad pickier this time, and only shot 3 rolls by the time 1:30 rolled around, and it started to wane. Also, we were getting some clouds coming in, so we bailed.
On the way back to civilization, I noticed it was picking up again … I finally found a place a few miles down the road with a good northern horizon, and set up the camera again.
Oh… My… God. The curtains! The pulsing rays!! The pulsing shafts of light as they flickered up the magnetic lines of force to the corona. I was seeing pulsating shafts from the south!! All of them converging near Orion, forming another spectacular corona. I shot, moved the camera, and shot again. Always looking for the best display, and ever mindful to watch for composition (at least I was keeping my photographers’ hat on during this), I shot frame after frame. At one point I was going to leave, as it was dying again. But as I put my camera in the car, it flared up to the point I HAD to get set up again; another roll of film in the camera. I finally stopped around 3:00, as it was dying down, and also because I knew if I didn’t force myself, I’d shoot until I ran out of film. … In all my years of observing the aurora, I’ve never seen such intense pulsating effects. Also, the coronas (all 5 I counted) had more detail in them than I had ever seen.
More of the night sky 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!
October 2, 2013
NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center posted Geomagnetic Storm Starts Early about 8 hours ago:
The awaited CME passed the ACE spacecraft around 0100 UTC on October 2 (9:00 p.m. EDT October 1), sooner than forecasters had expected. G1 (Minor) Geomagnetic Storming now prevails, with the prospects of G2 (Moderate) levels still to come. The shock had no effect on the current Solar Radiation Storm, still declining through the S1 (Minor) category. Aurora watchers in North America may want to check the skies in the next few hours.
Those who got out were rewarded, and there’s more on tap for tonight. With this strong on an aurora at Torch Lake, the might be visible tonight in Grand Rapids or even further south!
PS: Shawn Malone simply posted “Oh My” about an hour ago, so definitely take a look at her Lake Superior Photo Facebook later today when she’s had a chance to grab some shut-eye and post them!
September 30, 2013
Make this the evening of October 2nd & 3rd – I misread the alert!
The latest Space Weather forecast says that S1 (Minor) solar radiation storm conditions are expected
tonight and tomorrow night Wednesday & Thursday night due to particle enhancement associated with the 29 Sep coronal mass ejection (CME). They have revised Thursday up from Minor to Moderate too!
That’s good enough reason to check in on Shawn Malone of Lake Superior Photo. Shawn takes amazing pictures of the Northern Lights and all things Upper Peninsula. This summer, her incredible North Country Dreamland video won the Viewers Choice in the 2013 Smithsonian in Motion video contest.
Much (much) more about the aurora borealis on Michigan in Pictures!
August 5, 2013
I’ve had an eye on the Space Weather over the last few days, and while it doesn’t look like this weekend’s G1 level solar storm has produced anything, there’s a slight chance we’ll see something tonight. Their definition of the G1 level says that aurora may be visible at high latitudes, i.e., northern tier of the U.S. such as northern Michigan and Maine, so you want to check tonight!
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.