Otter Creek Aurora

Otter Creek Aurora

Otter Creek Aurora, photo by Snap Happy Gal Photography

This is one shot from an incredible video that Heather made of the northern lights as seen from Esch Road Beach in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. That’s Otter Creek in the foreground.

Click to view bigger, follow Snap Happy Gal on Facebook, and definitely watch that video – meteors!!

Lots more northern lights on Michigan in Pictures.

Heavenly curtain at the Phoenix Church

A special Sunday “I changed the cover of the Michigan in Pictures Facebook” edition of Michigan in Pictures.

God is Light

God is light, photo by Jiqing Fan

The Keweenaw County Historical Society page about their Phoenix Church in Houghton explains:

St. Mary’s Church was built in 1858 to serve the Catholic residents in the nearby mining community of Cliff, scene of the area’s first major copper discovery in 1844. Services continued until 1899 when the church was dismantled and reassembled in Phoenix, where it was renamed The Church of the Assumption. Masses were held until 1957, when the last service marked a century of providing spiritual guidance to mining families and their descendants.

In 1985 the Keweenaw County Historical Society took over the property and began extensive repair and restoration work. The church now appears much as it did when folks from another century knelt in prayer, a fitting memorial to one chapter of Keweenaw’s proud heritage. Although now deconsecrated, the church is still used for weddings and memorial services.

More on Pheonix Church from the Keweenaw County Historical Society.

View his photo bigger on Flickr and see more in his Houghton & UP Mich slideshow.

More northern lights and more churches on Michigan in Pictures.

Twilit Aurora from the Keweenaw Peninsula

Twilit Aurora Borealis

Twilit Aurora, photo by Eric Hackney

Wowzas!!! Here’s the northern lights as seen last night from the Keweenaw Peninsula. Space Weather is saying that there’s a good chance of more strong northern lights tonight!

I’ve written about the science behind the colors on the Northern Lights, but how about some highlights of the beliefs about colors of the aurora from ancient people around the world?

In Bulfinch’s Mythology, Thomas Bulfinch claimed in 1855 that in Norse mythology: The Valkyrior are warlike virgins, mounted upon horses and armed with helmets and spears … When they ride forth on their errand, their armour sheds a strange flickering light, which flashes up over the northern skies, making what men call the “aurora borealis”, or “Northern Lights”.

The Algonquin think the lights are their ancestors dancing around a fire.

The northern lights in Scotland were known as “the mirrie dancers” or na fir-chlis. The dance often ended in a fight – “the mirrie dancers bled each other last night”. The appearance of the lights also predicted bad weather.

In Latvian folklore the aurora borealis, especially if red and observed in winter, are fighting souls of dead warriors especially if it is red and seen in the winter. It is an omen foretelling disaster.

Russian folklore associates the northern lights with the fire dragon (“Ognenniy Zmey”). The dragon came to women to seduce them when their husbands were gone.

The Finns named the northern lights revontulet, or fox fires. According to their legend, foxes made of fire lived in Lapland. And, the fox fires were the sparks they took up into the atmosphere on their tails.

Click for more including photos!

View Eric’s photo bigger and see more in his 9-7-15: Northern Lights V slideshow.

Many more Michigan aurora pics on Michigan in Pictures!

Epic Sable Point

epic-northern-lights-at-big-sable

Epic Sable Point, photo by Jamie MacDonald

NOAA’s Space Weather Advisory Center is a go-to resource for early alerts on potentially good nights for viewing the Northern Lights in Michigan. The Aurora Borealis made an appearance over the weekend, and Space Weather suggests that tonight holds some promise:

The CME (coronal mass ejection) that produced G3 (Strong) geomagnetic storms on August 15th, 2015 seems to have moved past the Earth. However, we are still under the influence of a high speed solar wind stream from coronal hole 88 (CH 88) and G1 (Minor) geomagnetic storms are possible in the evening to overnight hours. A G1 Watch has been issued for the UTC day of August 17th to reflect this activity.

Head over to NOAA Space Weather for lots more including images of solar activity and all kinds of cosmic goodness.

Jamie says that he went to shoot the Milky Way over the lighthouse and was treated to the Aurora Borealis too! View his photo bigger and see more in his Landscapes slideshow.

Lots more about Big Sable Point Lighthouse and tons more northern lights on Michigan in Pictures!

When Day and Night Collide

When Day and Night Collide

When Day and Night Collide, photo by Eric Hackney

We got some great Northern Lights last weekend, and so far summer 2015 has been great for the Aurora Borealis.

Eric took this stunning photo at twilight Saturday on Great Sand Bay. View it bigger and see more in his 7-11-15: Northern Lights III slideshow.

The Michigan Tech Geology Department’s page on Great Sand Bay says (in part):

This is a remarkable geological site, with many excellent examples of features to see.  There is a low energy beach with offshore sandbars, sheltered by a dramatic headland.  The headland is part of a resistent lava layer from the Lake Shore Traps, where there are underwater copper rich veins which cut across. A large copper boulder was removed for the display at Quincy Mine, but much remains of veins for diving here in the Underwater preserve.

Inland, within the Redwyn Dunes and George Hite Dunes are Coastal Dune Ecosystems with many perched dunes and vernal pools.  Perched dunes are dunes that are located above glacial deposits, moraines, outwash or glacial lake deposits. In this place vernal pools are between dunes and above post glacial lake materials.  All this makes for an unsual environment, well worth visiting. A 1 hr trail at Redwyn covers these features well.

Read on for lots more including photos, maps and aerials and get tons more about the Northern Lights including viewing and prediction tips on Michigan in Pictures!

Northern Lights: Ancient Aliens Edition

Northern Lights Ancient Aliens Edition

Northern Lights over Lake Lake Superior, photo by Paul Arno Rose

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center is THE place to go for forecasting of likely northern lights activity. Yesterday they held a press conference regarding the G4 storm (on a scale of 1-5) that was caused by two magnetic eruptions on March 15 that combined to form a single wave producing the biggest storm so far of Cycle 24.

Their page on Geomagnetic Storms explains:

A geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere that occurs when there is a very efficient exchange of energy from the solar wind into the space environment surrounding Earth. These storms result from variations in the solar wind that produces major changes in the currents, plasmas, and fields in Earth’s magnetosphere. The solar wind conditions that are effective for creating geomagnetic storms are sustained (for several to many hours) periods of high-speed solar wind, and most importantly, a southward directed solar wind magnetic field (opposite the direction of Earth’s field) at the dayside of the magnetosphere. This condition is effective for transferring energy from the solar wind into Earth’s magnetosphere.

The largest storms that result from these conditions are associated with solar coronal mass ejections (CMEs) where a billion tons or so of plasma from the sun, with its embedded magnetic field, arrives at Earth. CMEs typically take several days to arrive at Earth, but have been observed, for some of the most intense storms, to arrive in as short as 18 hours. Another solar wind disturbance that creates conditions favorable to geomagnetic storms is a high-speed solar wind stream (HSS). HSSs plow into the slower solar wind in front and create co-rotating interaction regions, or CIRs. These regions are often related to geomagnetic storms that while less intense than CME storms, often can deposit more energy in Earth’s magnetosphere over a longer interval.

Storms also result in intense currents in the magnetosphere, changes in the radiation belts, and changes in the ionosphere, including heating the ionosphere and upper atmosphere region called the thermosphere. In space, a ring of westward current around Earth produces magnetic disturbances on the ground. A measure of this current, the disturbance storm time (Dst) index, has been used historically to characterize the size of a geomagnetic storm. In addition, there are currents produced in the magnetosphere that follow the magnetic field, called field-aligned currents, and these connect to intense currents in the auroral ionosphere. These auroral currents, called the auroral electrojets, also produce large magnetic disturbances. Together, all of these currents, and the magnetic deviations they produce on the ground, are used to generate a planetary geomagnetic disturbance index called Kp. This index is the basis for one of the three NOAA Space Weather Scales, the Geomagnetic Storm, or G-Scale, that is used to describe space weather that can disrupt systems on Earth.

During storms, the currents in the ionosphere, as well as the energetic particles that precipitate into the ionosphere add energy in the form of heat that can increase the density and distribution of density in the upper atmosphere, causing extra drag on satellites in low-earth orbit. The local heating also creates strong horizontal variations in the in the ionospheric density that can modify the path of radio signals and create errors in the positioning information provided by GPS. While the storms create beautiful aurora, they also can disrupt navigation systems such as the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and create harmful geomagnetic induced currents (GICs) in the power grid and pipelines.

Lots more including the ability to sign up for space weather alerts at www.swpc.noaa.gov. Also head over to the NOAA Auroras group on Flickr to share your photos.

View Paul’s photo background bigtacular and check out more of his photography on his Facebook page.

More northern lights photos & info on Michigan in Pictures.

A Conflagration of Storms: The March 13, 1989 Solar Storm

Conflagration of Storms

Northern Lights, photo by Stephen Tripp

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. 
~Dr. Sten Odenwald

I like to revisit this March 13, 1989 incident documented by Dr. Odenwald in A Conflagration of Storms. In addition to being an amazing display of the aurora borealis, this solar storm took down Quebec’s power network and very nearly much more:

In many ways, the Quebec blackout was a sanitized calamity. It was wrapped in a diversion of beautiful colors, and affected a distant population mostly while they slept. There were no houses torn asunder, or streets flooded in the manner of a hurricane or tornado. There was no dramatic footage of waves crashing against the beach. There were no cyclonic whirlwinds cutting a swath of destruction through Kansas trailer parks. The calamity passed without mention in the major metropolitan newspapers, yet six million people were affected as they woke to find no electricity to see them through a cold Quebec wintry night. Engineers from the major North American power companies were not so blasé about what some would later conclude, could easily have escalated into a $6 billion catastrophe affecting most U.S. East Coast cities. All that prevented 50 million more people in the U.S. from joining their Canadian friends in the dark were a dozen or so heroic capacitors on the Allegheny Power Network.

The Media seemed to have missed one of the most human impacts of the beautiful aurora they so meticulously described in article after article. Today the March 1989 ‘Quebec Blackout’ has reached legendary stature, at least among electrical engineers and space scientists, as an example of how solar storms can adversely affect us. It has even begun to appear in science textbooks. Fortunately, storms as powerful as this really are rather rare. It takes quite a solar wallop to cause anything like the conditions leading up to a Quebec-style blackout. When might we expect the next one to happen? About once every ten years or so, but the exact time is largely a game of chance.

Call it the ultimate Friday the 13th! The whole book The 23rd Cycle:Learning to live with a stormy star is available online, and you can read a lot more from Dr. Odenwald at his website, The Astronomy Cafe or at facebook.com/AstronomyCafe.

View Stephen’s photo bigger and see more in his excellent Northern Lights slideshow.

A whole lot more northern lights on Michigan in Pictures!

PS: Keep an eye on solar storminess and get heads up notifications when the northern lights might be visible at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Space Weather and Starbreeze

Isle Royale Star Breeze

Isle Royale starbreeze, photo by Shawn Malone/Lake Superior Photo

If you’re a watcher of the northern lights or want to be, NOAA’s Space Weather Projection Center at spaceweather.gov is a resource you should be aware of. It’s packed full of all kinds of data on what’s happening on the sun and how that impacts us here on earth.

Yesterday they updated to an all-new site that I encourage you to check out. The coolest things I found so far are the Space Weather Enthusiast Dashboard and the 30 minute aurora forecast, a seriously awesome visualization of aurora potential. Be sure to subscribe to their space weather alerts for tips on when the aurora borealis might be visible!

Shawn says that the stars were screaming that night at Isle Royale National Park. View her photo bigger on the Lake Superior Photo Facebook, and if you like you can purchase the photo right here. And speaking of northern lights, be sure to click for a time-lapse of the aurora over Isle Royale with a very cool soundtrack she recorded of loons on the island.

More northern lights and more Isle Royale on Michigan in Pictures.

Heavy Space Weather Ahead?

Frigid Auroras Over Superior

Frigid Auroras Over Superior, photo by Michigan Nature Photog

NOAA’s current space weather forecast reports an M Class (moderate) solar flare from solar region AR2002. Spaceweather.com adds that AR2002 has destabilized its magnetic field, making it more likely to erupt, and that NOAA forecasters are estimating a 60% chance of M-class flares and a 10% chance of X-class flares during the next 24 hours. X-class flares are major solar events that can spawn incredible auroras visible far to the south of us, planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. Click to Space Weather for a video of AR2002 development.

While there’s not much chance of a major event, I thought it was interesting that 25 years ago this week,  one of the most significant solar storms in memory created a spectacle in the skies as it demonstrated the power and danger of solar weather to modern society. A Conflagration of Storms begins:

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.

…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.

You can read on for more about how the storm spawned a power outage in Quebec and pushed US systems to the brink of collapse. If you want to totally geek out on auroral science, check this article out about how the Earth’s magnetosphere actually extends itself to block solar storms.

Greg took this shot in late February in Marquette in -17 temps! View his photo bigger and see more in his northern lights slideshow. You can purchase Greg’s pics at MichiganNaturePhotos.com.

There’s more science and much (much) more about the Northern Lights and Michigan on Michigan in Pictures.

How to see the Northern Lights in Michigan

October Auroras by Shawn Malone

October Auroras by Shawn Malone/Lake Superior Photo

Just in! Shawn told me she just got in from shooting the northern lights last night – check her photo out right here and stay tuned to her Facebook for updates!

NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center reported this morning:

Earth is currently under the influence of a coronal mass ejection (CME) and G2 (Moderate) geomagnetic storming has been observed. This is likely the result of what was expected to be a near miss from an event originally observed on the 14th. This CME has a fairly well-organized magnetic field structure so continued G1 (Minor) to G2 (Moderate) storming is certainly possible. Stay tuned for updates as this event unfolds.

The Aurora Borealis was out last night, and I thought it a good time to share Shawn Malone’s Insider Secrets for Northern Lights that she wrote for the Pure Michigan Blog a couple of months ago:

Michigan has a lot of things going for it when it comes to northern lights viewing, the most important being 1). latitude  and 2). relatively low light pollution in many areas.  Northern Michigan sits in a great location latitude-wise, as the auroral oval dips further south on nights of stronger auroral activity.  The Upper Peninsula  is blessed with hundreds of miles of shoreline along the south shore of Lake Superior, which provides some of the best northern lights viewing in the lower 48 due to the very dark night skies.  When looking north over Lake Superior, one can see right down to the horizon and take in a 180 degree unobstructed view of the night sky.  Getting to a location without the obstruction of a treeline or hills is important at our latitude, as many times an auroral display will sit very low on the horizon. Having a dark night sky with little light pollution is necessary when looking for the northern lights, as the light of the aurora is equal to the brightness of starlight.

People often ask me how I’ve been able to see so many northern lights displays over the years and a lot of it has to do with what I mentioned above. I live in Marquette, Michigan which sits centered on the south shore of Lake Superior, and when looking north there’s nothing but lake for hundreds of miles. Marquette and locations nearby have many areas along the lakeshore still publicly accessible, allowing for the opportunity to view the aurora right from the shoreline.

If you’ve never seen the northern lights and want to maximize your opportunity to do so, learn and pay attention to sunspot activity, as that’s what drives the northern lights.

Read on for tips on where to catch these lights, some more photos from Shawn and her incredible, Smithsonian award-winning video Radiance.

View Shawn’s photo bigger on Facebook, follow her Lake Superior Photo page and if you get up to Marquette, check out the Lake Superior Photo Gallery on Front St in downtown Marquette!

Michigan in Pictures has a TON of Northern Lights information & photos that includes the science and stories of this incredible phenomenon.