Purple Rain: Colors of the Northern Lights

Purple Aurora

Isle Royale Aurora, photo by Ross Ellet

Music is music, ultimately. If it makes you feel good, cool.
~Prince

Prince was a musician who had a huge effect on my life. I went to school near Minneapolis when he was transforming music through his own work and what he did with a host of artists. I’m very sad at his passing. Down at the bottom I have one of my favorite clips of Prince.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the northern lights dozens of times but have probably only seen purple auroras three or four times. Causes of Color explains the colors of the northern lights:

The sun radiates all visible colors, which is why sunlight appears white. The spectrum of visible light associated with the aurora is much more restricted. The aurora is caused by charged particles in the solar wind colliding with atmospheric atoms and ions. The collisions cause the electrons of the atmospheric atoms to become excited. As the electrons return to their original energy levels, these atoms emit visible light of distinct wavelengths, to create the colors of the display we see.

The color of the aurora depends on the wavelength of the light emitted. This is determined by the specific atmospheric gas and its electrical state, and the energy of the particle that hits the atmospheric gas. The atmosphere consists mainly of nitrogen and oxygen, which emit the characteristic colors of their respective line spectra. Atomic oxygen is responsible for the two main colors of green (wavelength of 557.7 nm) and red (630.0 nm). Nitrogen causes blue and deep red hues.

Most of the auroral features are greenish-yellow, but sometimes the tall rays will turn red at their tops and along their lower edges. On rare occasions, sunlight will hit the top part of the auroral rays to create a faint blue color. On very rare occasions (once every 10 years or so) the aurora can be a deep blood red color from top to bottom. Pink hues may also be seen in the lower area of the aurora. In addition to producing light, the energetic auroral collisions transmit heat. The heat is dissipated by infrared radiation, or transported away by strong winds in the upper atmosphere.

Read on for more and also check out more about the Northern Lights on Michigan in Pictures.

Ross took this on August 10th last summer. He says “The Northern Lights over Moskey Basin in Isle Royale National Park. This is the first time in my life I have seen a bright purple aurora develop.

View his photo background bigilicious and see more in his Aurora slideshow.

Without a doubt warmer

Fancy Anvil

Fancy Anvil, photo by Liz Glass

Every time I talk about things that some find political, there are readers who get uncomfortable/upset. I’m OK with that, especially in regards to today’s subject which I personally feel has moved beyond the realm of opinion and into fact. Your mileage may vary. 

One thing that struck me is that it doesn’t really matter what is causing the warming temperatures – we know that dumping carbon into the atmosphere increases the temperature, so we know how to combat it.

NASA’s Earth Observatory reported that February 2016 was the warmest month in 136 years of modern temperature records in that it deviated more from normal than any month on record since reliable, global records began in 1880. For what this means, let’s turn to Mashable for the implications of this fiery February:

The 1.35-degree Celsius temperature anomaly in February beat the anomaly recorded in January, which itself was a record high departure from average for any month. This means that temperatures in February 2016 had the largest departure from average of any month in NASA’s records since 1880. To put it more plainly, February stands out for its unusual heat more than any other month in the modern climate record.

…As Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann has pointed out via social media, the NASA February temperature findings are especially significant when compared to preindustrial temperatures. Before humans began pumping carbon dioxide into the air from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil, global average surface temperatures were far cooler.

When compared to those conditions, Mann says, February was probably about 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above the preindustrial average for the globe.

You can read on for lots more … or not.

View Liz’s photo bigger and see more in her 500+ Views slideshow.

PS: Apologies to Liz for once again using her photo in a possibly controversial post. She’s the owner of Lake Street Market in Boyne City and (as far as I know) not at all controversial! ;)

March Comet Closeups: Comets 252P/LINEAR 12 & Pan-STAARS

Comet Pan-Starrs ... iridium flares

Comet Pan-Starrs … iridium flares, photo by Ken Scott

EarthSky says that later this month we’ll see a pair of comets, including the closet comet approach in two-and-a-half centuries:

A pair of comets showing very similar orbits are approaching Earth, and astronomers will use radio-telescopes to obtain radar images, while advanced amateurs may capture images of each of the twin comets. While both will pass at a safe distance, one of them will have a record-breakingly close flyby. Comet s was already known to be passing by Earth on March 21, 2016 at a distance of 3,290,000 miles (5.3 million km). This is about 14 times the Earth-Moon distance, and, taken by itself, sets no record.

Comet P/2016 BA14 (Pan-STARRS) will safely pass Earth on March 22,2016, passing even closer than comet 252P. Comet P/2016 BA14 flyby will be at just 2,199,933 miles (3.5 million km) or about 9 lunar distances, which is very close for a comet. In fact, this comet – P/2016 BA14 – will set a record as the third-closest known comet to pass our planet in recorded history.

…First place goes to Comet D/1770 L1 (Lexell). Comet Lexell went at just 5.9 lunar distances on July, 1770. That was about 1,410,100 miles (2.3 million km), so close that Charles Messier noted the comet’s coma looked about the size of four times the apparent size of a full moon.

Read on for lots more and do yourself a favor and subscribe to their email newsletter!

Ken took these stitched photos of Comet Pan-STAARS along with two Iridium satellite flares back in April of 2013. View his photo bigger, see more in his Skies Above slideshow and definitely follow him at Ken Scott Photography on Facebook for photos as these comets make their passes.

 

Why is Ice Blue or Green?

The Blue Ice

The Blue Ice, photo by Charles Bonham

The Causes of Color answers 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 March off Gills Pier on the Leelanau Peninsula when there was a whole lot more ice than there is this winter. View it background bigilicious and see more in his Leelanau Peninsula slideshow.

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

Michigan Weird Science: The Menominee Crack

Birch Creek Michigan Crack in Forest

The Menominee Crack, photo courtesy Michigan Tech College of Engineering

Gizmodo reports that back in October of 2010 folks near Birch Creek in Menominee County heard a boom, felt the earth rock, and woke up to find a 360′ crack in the ground:

The first clue was the fact that the split happened at the top of a ridge. A pop-up isn’t a wrenching apart of some deep underground structure. It’s a large piece of ground suddenly pushing upwards, so that the ground above splits over it. The researchers discovered the pop-up by the sophisticated technique of slamming a sledgehammer against a metal ball sitting on the ground. The action caused sound waves to move through the rock beneath—and depending on the formation of the rock, the sound moves at different speeds. In this case, it moved in hugely different ways parallel to the crack, as compared to perpendicular to the crack. This indicated that there was a huge fracture in the limestone underneath the crack.

These sudden fractures occur due to extreme strain in the rock—strain that can be pent up for centuries. It’s more common around quarries, when removal of large pieces of rock can cause the rest to suddenly fracture and pop upwards. Other times, it can occur spontaneously. The Menominee Crack, as its now called, was probably the result of a spontaneous fracture—although the researchers speculate it might have happened due to the removal of a large tree from the area.

Read more at Gizmodo and check Michigan Tech for a detailed explanation of the Menominee Crack and Live Science for more photos. If you want to creep yourself out a little more, check out the probably related Wisconsin mystery booms!

Thanks Michigan Tech’s Engineering College for the photos and for all you do to help unravel the mysteries of Michigan!

If you like stuff like this, there’s plenty more Michigan weirdness on Michigan in Pictures!

A Snowflake’s Life: How Snowflakes Get Their Shape

A Snowflakes Life

A Snowflake’s Life, photo by Shawn Malone/Lake Superior Photo

“Lives are snowflakes – unique in detail, forming patterns we have seen before, but as like one another as peas in a pod (and have you ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There’s not a chance you’d mistake one for another, after a minute’s close inspection.)”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

One of my favorite websites is EarthSky, and they explain how snowflakes get their shape:

The shape of snowflakes is influenced by the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere. Snowflakes form in the atmosphere when cold water droplets freeze onto dust particles. Depending on the temperature and humidity of the air where the snowflakes form, the resulting ice crystals will grow into a myriad of different shapes.

…Kenneth Libbrecht, Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology, has made extensive observations of how water molecules get incorporated into snow crystals. In his research, he has observed that the most intricate snowflake patterns are formed when there is moisture in the air. Snowflakes produced in drier conditions tend to have simpler shapes.

Temperature also has a large effect on the formation of snowflakes according to Libbrecht’s research. Snowflakes formed in temperatures below – 22 degrees Celsius (- 7.6 degrees Fahrenheit) consist primarily of simple crystal plates and columns whereas snowflakes with extensive branching patterns are formed in warmer temperatures.

Bottom line: Temperature and humidity influence snowflake formation. The most intricate snowflake patterns are typically formed during warm and wet conditions.

Read on for more including some links & photos!

Shawn writes that she can totally relate to this snowflake’s imperfect life. View it background big on Facebook, check out more including a kickin’ video of the Northern Lights at the Mackinac Bridge on her Lake Superior Photo page, and view and purchase photos from LakeSuperiorPhoto.com.

More winter wallpaper and more snow on Michigan in Pictures.

PS: Congrats to Shawn for passing 200,000 subscribers on her Facebook page – wowzas!!

PPS: Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods is an incredible work of modern day fantasy.

#TBT: Remembering the Crew of Apollo 1

Remembering the Crew of Apollo 1

Remembering the Crew of Apollo 1, photo by NASA

“You’ll be flying along some nights with a full moon. You’re up at 45,000 feet. Up there you can see it like you can’t see it down here. It’s just the big, bright, clear moon. You look up there and just say to yourself: I’ve got to get up there. I’ve just got to get one of those flights.”
-Roger Chaffee (The New York Times, January 29, 1967, p. 48.)

Thanks to longtime Michigan in Pictures contributor Rudy Malmquist for the find on this. By total coincidence, Rudy will be back tomorrow with a photo!!

The National Air & Space Museum at the Smithsonian shared this photo yesterday, saying:

Remembering the crew of Apollo 1. On January 27, 1967, astronauts Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee perished in a fire during a pre-launch test for what was to be the first crewed Apollo mission.

Rudy pointed out that Chaffee was from Grand Rapids, and you can read a very detailed biography on Roger B. Chaffee from NASA’s History Office.  Here’s a few choice bits about his early life … and here’s hoping that Michigan in Pictures readers can do their best to instill a love of service, science and following ones dreams in the young folk in their lives:

“On my honor, I will do my best…” are the first eight words of the Scout Oath for the Boy Scouts of America. Individually, the words are short and simple. Collectively, however, they speak volumes and serve to inspire millions of boys to strive for excellence. Lieutenant Commander Roger Bruce Chaffee was a Scout for whom the Oath was more than just mere words. He took the pledge to heart and accepted the challenge to fully live the words of the Oath. Whether he was meticulously hand crafting items from wood or training to be the youngest man ever to fly in space, Chaffee always did his best by putting one hundred percent of himself into the effort.

…Earlier in his career, Don Chaffee had been a barnstorming pilot who flew a Waco 10 biplane. He was a regular sight at fairgrounds and made a bit of extra money on the side by transporting passengers. He also piloted planes for parachute jumpers. Later, Don worked for Army Ordnance in Greenville and in 1942, he was transferred to the Doehler-Jarvis plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he served as Chief Inspector of Army Ordnance.

Don shared his love of flying with his son and at the age of seven, Roger enjoyed his first ride in an airplane when the family went on a short excursion over Lake Michigan. Although it was a relatively brief flight, Roger was absolutely thrilled. To satisfy his continued interested in planes, Don set up a card table in the living room where he and Roger would create model airplanes piece by piece. By the time he was nine, Roger would point to a plane flying overhead and predict, “I’ll be up there flying in one of those someday”.

…By the time Roger was fourteen, he had developed an interest in electronics engineering and tinkered with various radio projects in his spare time. In high school, he received excellent grades and maintained a 92 average. Vocational tests showed that Roger’s strongest abilities were in the area of science. He also scored high mechanically and artistically. Mathematics and science were his favorite subjects, with chemistry being particularly appealing. Once the family switched to a gas heating system, Roger transformed the outdated coal bin area into his own private workshop where he spent countless hours experimenting with his chemistry set. By the time he was a junior in high school, he was leaning toward a career as a nuclear physicist. As a senior, he established a lofty goal for himself: he wanted to someday have his name written in history books. Before the world’s super powers took their first halting steps into space, Roger Chaffee had shared his dream of being the first man on the moon with his closest friends.

Here’s an article about the fire, and if you’re in Grand Rapids, check out the Roger B Chaffee Planetarium at the Grand Rapids Museum.