Wildfire in the Sky

Sleeping Bear Bay Northern Lights, photo by Kenneth Snyder

Here’s a feature via Leelanau.com

A Conflagration of Storms from his online book The 23rd Cycle, Dr. Sten Odenwald tells of the evening of March 13, 1989 when a massive wave of solar energy struck our atmosphere, creating one of the most impressive northern lights displays of the modern era.

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.

Luke Pontin, a charter boat operator in the Florida Keys, described the colors in reddish hues as they reflected from the warm Caribbean waters. In Salt Lake City, Raymond Niesporek nearly lost his fish while starring transfixed at the northern display. He had no idea what it was until he returned home and heard about the rare aurora over Utah from the evening news. Although most of the Midwest was clouded over, in Austin Texas, Meteorologist Rich Knight at KXAN had to deal with hundreds of callers asking about what they were seeing. The first thing on many people’s mind was the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS29) which had been launched on March 13 at 9:57 AM. Had it exploded? Was it coming apart and raining down over the Earth? 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.

Read on for much more about how our electrical grid can be brought to its knees by the power behind the beauty of the northern lights and get much more in the 23rd Cycle.

Kenneth took this photo back in July of 2012. See more great pics in his Sleeping Bear Dunes album & also check out many more northern lights photos in the Leelanau.com group on Flickr!

2019’s Biggest Supermoon Flies Tonight!

Super Moon Muskegon Michigan, photo by The Shutter Affair

EarthSky, which by the way is a fantastic website for anyone who wants to get more out of the night sky that’s in great need of your support, has this to say about tonight’s supermoon, which will be the largest of 2019:

This year’s February presents the biggest full moon supermoon of 2019. From around the world, the moon will look plenty full to the eye on both February 18 and February 19 as it parades across the nighttime sky. It reaches the crest of its full phase on February 19 for much of the world. What’s a supermoon? It’s a popularized term for what astronomers call a perigean full moon. In other words, it’s a full moon near perigee, or closest to Earth for this month. This February 2019 full moon reaches its exact full phase closer to the time of perigee than any other full moon this year. Hence the year’s closest supermoon.

Will you be able to discern with your eye that this full moon is larger than an ordinary full moon? Experienced observers say they can do it, but – for most of us – the difference is too small for the eye to notice.

…here are other factors that make a supermoon special. For example, if you look outside tonight – assuming your sky is clear – you might be able to discern with your eye that the landscape is more brightly lit than usual by moonlight. Supermoons are substantially brighter than ordinary full moons.

Also, the moon’s gravity affects earthly tides, and a supermoon – full moon closest to Earth – pulls harder on Earth’s oceans than an ordinary full moon. That’s why supermoons create higher-than usual tides, which tend to come a day or two after the full moon.

By the way, that bright star accompanying the February supermoon is none other than Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion.

More at EarthSky & definitely consider helping to support EarthSky at helpsupportearthsky.org!

Julia took this photo of December of 2017 in Muskegon, Michigan. View it bigger, see more in her Lighthouse photo album, and also on her blog!

Much more about the Moon and about supermoons on Michigan in Pictures!

Blue Ice at Bay City

Bay City Blue Ice, photo by Great Lakes Drone Works

Great Lakes Drone Works captured some awesome shots from the ice on Saginaw Bay near Bay City. They write:

We made our way out to Bay City State Park to capture some images of these huge chunks of ice. At first we were hoping drone photos would be the way to go but after walking around and getting up close, it was clear that ground photography was the better option.
Blue ice occurs when weather conditions — such as a lack of high winds — allow water to freeze slowly and evenly, resulting in ice composed of large crystals (unlike snow, which is formed quickly and made up of small crystals).

When light hits these big ice crystals, it can travel deep into the structures (compare this to snow, wherein light hits a sharp edge and reflects off of it right away, resulting in blinding white). When the light travels deeper into slowly formed ice, some of the red wavelengths of sunlight — which is the longest wavelength of visible light — get absorbed into the ice structure.

The blue, which is the shortest wavelength of visible light, bounces back out, meet our eyes, and results in a deep aqua color.

Head over to their Facebook for more shots and get lots more icy goodness at the ice tag on Michigan in Pictures!

The Colors of Cold

Green Blue Ice, photo by Charles Bonham

Apparently Charles is my go-to photographer for ice colors as his picture was used for my post about what makes ice blue or green a couple years ago on Michigan in Pictures. Then as now, I went to The Causes of Color to answer the question: What causes the blue color that sometimes appears in snow and ice?

As with water, this color is caused by the absorption of both red and yellow light (leaving light at the blue end of the visible light spectrum). The absorption spectrum of ice is similar to that of water, except that hydrogen bonding causes all peaks to shift to lower energy – making the color greener. This effect is augmented by scattering within snow, which causes the light to travel an indirect path, providing more opportunity for absorption. From the surface, snow and ice present a uniformly white face. This is because almost all of the visible light striking the snow or ice surface is reflected back, without any preference for a single color within the visible spectrum.

The situation is different for light that is not reflected, but penetrates or is transmitted into the snow. As this light travels into the snow or ice, the ice grains scatter a large amount of light. If the light is to travel over any distance it must survive many such scattering events. In other words, it must keep scattering and not be absorbed. We usually see the light coming back from the near surface layers (less than 1 cm) after it has been scattered or bounced off other snow grains only a few times, and it still appears white.

In simplest of terms, think of the ice or snow layer as a filter. If it is only a centimeter thick, all the light makes it through; if it is a meter thick, mostly blue light makes it through. This is similar to the way coffee often appears light when poured, but much darker when it is in a cup.

Click through for lots more about light & color!

Charles took this photo last week on Sand Point near Munising. Check it out bigger and head over to his Flickr page for a bunch more great shots of winter in the Upper Peninsula!

More winter wallpaper and more amazing ice on Michigan in Pictures.

Firing up the Polar Vortex Ice Cave Hype Machine

Ice Cave Evening, photo by Mark Miller

via leelanau.com who write:

It’s a frosty 3 degrees in Leland with winds whipping powdery snow around and more single digits & high winds driving wind chills far below zero coming over the next couple of days. That’s not optimal for driving, and schools across the county are cancelled. It could, however, bring to life ice formations & caves on Leelanau’s western shore like we’ve seen several times in recent years.

They’ve got past ice cave articles and will be posting updates right here! The Freep reports that Michigan is bracing for potentially record-breaking cold this week:

A polar vortex is forecast to batter the Great Lakes and Midwest regions Tuesday through Thursday, with the lowest temperatures set to occur Wednesday. Some areas of Lower Michigan could face wind chills as low as 45 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service.

That would mark the most bitter cold in years for the region.

…The polar vortex is the large area of cold air and low pressure near each of the Earth’s poles. The air flows counter-clockwise near each of the poles, hence “vortex.”

“Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream,” the NWS explains.

Mark took this back in Mark of 2014. View the photo bigger and see more awesome shots in his Northern Michigan winters photo album.

Lunar Eclipse coming January 20th!

October 8, 2014 Lunar Eclipse, photo by David Marvin

On Sunday night we have a chance to see the last total lunar eclipse until May 26, 2021! EarthSky shares information about viewing the lunar eclipse:

On January 20-21, we’ll have the first full moon of 2019, and the first lunar eclipse of 2019 (and this is an eclipse-heavy year, with three solar and two lunar eclipses). It can be viewed from North and South America, Greenland, Iceland, Europe, northern and western Africa, plus the Arctic region of the globe. More details – and eclipse times for North America, plus links for those elsewhere – below.

The eclipse will happen on the night of the year’s first of three straight full supermoons, meaning the moon will be nearly at its closest to Earth for this January, as the eclipse takes place.

The January 20-21 total eclipse of the moon lasts for somewhat more than one hour. It’s preceded and followed by a partial umbral eclipse, each time persisting for over an hour. The whole umbral eclipse from start to finish has a duration of nearly 3 1/3 hours.

Additionally, a penumbral lunar eclipse takes place before and after the umbral lunar eclipse. However, a penumbral lunar eclipse is so faint that many people won’t even notice it while it is happening. In our post, we only give the times of the moon passing through the Earth’s umbra – dark, cone-shaped shadow.

The lunar disk often exhibits a coppery color during a total lunar eclipse. Although the moon is completely immersed in the Earth’s dark shadow, the Earth’s atmosphere refracts (or bends) sunlight and the longer wavelengths of light (red and orange) pass onward to fall on the moon’s face. The dispersed light from all of the world’s sunrises and sunsets softly illuminates the totally eclipsed moon. Actually, if you were on the moon, looking back on Earth, you’d see a total eclipse of the sun.

They note that the partial umbral eclipse begins at (roughly) 10:34 PM with the total eclipse starting at 11:41 PM. The greatest eclipse is at 12:12 AM with the total eclipse ending at 12:43 AM.

David took this photo in October of 2014. Check it out background bigilicious on Flickr and head over to his Marvin’s Gardens blog for more pics from the eclipse & David!

Hoar frost on the Lake Leelanau Narrows

The Narrows, photo by Mark Smith

“The Narrows” refers to the narrow section between North & South Lake Leelanau between these two joined lakes. The bridge that Mark was standing on yesterday morning to take this stunning photo of the hoarfrost before it burned off was originally constructed in 1864, shortly after the founding of the village of Provemont (now Lake Leelanau) by French Canadian farmers.

We’re looking toward North Lake Leelanau in Mark’s photo. Check it out background bigtacular and follow him on Flickr for more!

PS: This post about hoar frost on Michigan in Pictures has an incredible shot of some willows. The photographer explained:

Hoar Frost (also called radiation frost or hoarfrost or pruina) refers to the white ice crystals, loosely deposited on the ground or exposed objects, that form on cold clear nights when heat is lost into the open sky causing objects to become colder than the surrounding air. A related effect is flood frost or frost pocket which occurs when air cooled by ground-level radiation losses travels downhill to form pockets of very cold air in depressions, valleys, and hollows. Hoar Frost can form in these areas even when the air temperature a few feet above ground is well above freezing. Nonetheless the frost itself will be at or below the freezing temperature of water.

Hoar Frost may have different names depending on where it forms. For example, air hoar is a deposit of hoar frost on objects above the surface, such as tree branches, plant stems, wires; surface hoar is formed by fern-like ice crystals directly deposited on snow, ice or already frozen surfaces; crevasse hoar consists of crystals that form in glacial crevasses where water vapor can accumulate under calm weather conditions; depth hoar refers to cup shaped, faceted crystals formed within dry snow, beneath the surface.