STEVE: Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement

Five Minutes with STEVE by Shelbydiamondstar Photography

Five Minutes with STEVE by Shelbydiamondstar Photography

This spring has been big for fans of the aurora borealis. Shelby took created this photo of five, 1-min tracked shots blended with an untracked foreground shot the night of March 13/14th in Copper Harbor. It shows a phenomenon I’d never heard of, a Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement aka STEVE about which Space.com says (in part):

A typical aurora — sometimes called the northern lights or the southern lights, depending on the hemisphere in which it’s located — occurs when charged particles from the sun interact with Earth’s oxygen and nitrogen molecules. This interaction excites the molecules and causes them to glow.

But STEVE, formally known as Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement, is different. In the Northern Hemisphere, the phenomenon is visible from areas farther south than a typical aurora, and it looks like a ribbon of pink or mauve light. Sometimes, STEVE even has a “picket fence” appearance, with green columns of light passing through the ribbon. Auroras, by contrast, usually are shimmering green ribbons.

…The new study examined satellite data gathered above STEVE events in April 2008 and May 2016. The measurements included information about Earth’s magnetic and electrical fields in the magnetosphere, the region of Earth’s atmosphere where the planet’s magnetic field is stronger than any influence coming from the sun. Then, scientists compared the satellites’ findings with amateur photos of STEVE taken from the ground at the same time.

When STEVE was on display, the study authors realized, energetic electrons were pouring into Earth’s ionosphere, the layer of the planet’s atmosphere where atoms lose electrons due to solar and cosmic radiation. The friction that flood creates heats particles, which creates the pinkish glow, almost like an incandescent light bulb.

Satellite information further revealed how the “picket fence” aspect of STEVE develops. The data revealed waves moving from Earth’s magnetosphere to the ionosphere. In this region, the waves can both energize electrons and move them out of the magnetosphere, creating the picket-fence appearance, which happens simultaneously in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

Lots more at Space.com.

You can comment on Shelby’s photo right here. For sure follow her on Facebook and view & purchase her work at shelbydiamondstar.com.

Lots more northern lights on Michigan in Pictures!

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The Stuff DREAMS Are Made of

The stuff DREAMS are made of by Shelbydiamondstar Photography

The Stuff DREAMS Are Made of by ShelbyDiamondstar Photography

Shelby got an absolutely stunning shot of the aurora borealis on Saturday night on Lake Superior’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Head over to ShelbyDiamondstar Photography on Facebook for more!

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Magnetic North: Northern Lights likely tonight!

Magnetic North by Aaron Springer

Magnetic North by Aaron Springer

The NOAA/NWS Space Weather Prediction Center reports that geomagnetic Storm Watches are in effect from December 10th & 11th, 2020 due to anticipated Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) effects giving us a good chance of seeing the northern lights! The CME occurred on December 7th and analysis suggests CME arrival possible late on 9 December, initially resulting in G1 (Minor) storm levels. As CME effects continue, activity is likely to increase, especially if the magnetic field carried with the CME connects well with Earth’s magnetosphere. The potential for strong storm levels exists and a G3 (Strong) Watch is in effect for December 10th. CME-related disturbances are forecast to continue into 11 December, likely resulting in G2 (Moderate) storm levels 

As a quick rule of thumb, we can occasionally see Northern Lights at the G1 level, often at G2 and almost definitely at G3. Here’s hoping for clear skies!!

Aaron took this photo  at Otter Creek in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore back in March of 2015 & shared: A very memorable night. After seeing all 4 indicators in red on [a now defunct aurora tracker website] (and I had never seen that before), I bolted for the lake with what was an already late start. Soon after arriving I punched through the ice while jumping from flow to flow in the shallows. This was the first time I have ever shot these and despite having one leg wet to the knee I managed to stay out for five hours on sheer excitement. 

See more in his Aurora Borealis gallery on Flickr & here’s hoping for some clear skies tonight!

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Night Sky & Aurora from Empire Beach

Night Sky from Empire Beach by Imagination Works

Night Sky from Empire Beach by Nicholas McCreedy

The NASA/NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a G2 (Moderate) Storm Watch for September 28-29th. This means that folks in Michigan, particularly in the northern half, have a solid chance to see the northern lights!

Nicholas shared some tasty photos of the Northern Lights from Empire Beach in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Click to see them in the Northern Lights/Skies of Leelanau County NW Michigan group on Facebook & you can follow him at Imagination Works on Facebook as well!

Dig into our posts about the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) on Michigan in Pictures for all kinds of tips & science behind this beautiful phenomen!

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Painting the Night Sky

The Sky Grew Darker… by Fire Fighter’s Wife

“The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.”
― Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance

Beth shared this lovely photo & sentiment. See more in her Landscape album on Flickr.

Also, don’t forget to look for Perseid meteors tonight & for the next week or two!

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Comet Neowise gets better & better!

Lake Michigan … trifecta! by Ken Scott Photography

Space.com says that those who have gotten up before sunrise to gaze into the twilight skies to see Comet Neowise have been greeted by the best comet performance for Northern Hemisphere observers since the 1997 appearance of Comet Hale-Bopp, emphatically ending nearly a quarter-century of lack of spectacular comets, and it’s only going to get better:

The first good opportunity for evening viewing begins on July 12, when the head of the comet will stand 5 degrees above the north-northwest horizon, 80 minutes after sunset (the end of nautical twilight). By July 14 its altitude will have already doubled to 10 degrees, and by July 19 it will have doubled yet again to 20 degrees up by the end of nautical twilight. By then it will have moved to above the northwest horizon.

So, we at Space.com feel that the best time to view the comet during the evening will come during the July 14-19 time frame.

We also strongly recommend that observers should seek the most favorable conditions possible. Even a bright comet, like this one, can be obliterated by thin horizon clouds, haze, humid air, smoke, twilight glow and especially city lights. We especially emphasize that last factor: the farther away you get from a metropolitan area, the darker your sky and the better your view of NEOWISE. Binoculars will enhance your view.

And more good news: No moonlight will brighten the sky, as the moon will be a waning crescent and visible only in the morning sky through July 20. On successive July evenings the comet will grow fainter, but it will be farther from the sun, setting later and visible in a darker sky. As we move into August, the comet will be very well placed for observers with small telescopes.

Read on for more tips & happy comet hunting to you all!

Ken was in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore looking towards the Manitou Islands & writes that he captured Comet Neowise, the Northern Lights and an Iridium Flare plus the bonus reflection on Lake Michigan!! The bright light to right of center horizon is the South Manitou Island Lighthouse. See it bigger on Facebook.

Be sure to follow Ken Scott Photography & view & purchase prints at kenscottphotography.com!

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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!

Northern Lights Tonight??!!

via leelanau.com

Night Sky Life Over The Lake, photo by Matt Kazmierski 

The K-index is a scale that measures geomagnetic activity and the NOAA NWS Space Weather Prediction Center says we’re looking at a potential K-index of SIX tonight! That means Northern Lights are very likely tonight! Click the link above for much more and to subscribe to aurora alerts!

Matt took this last summer on Lime Lake in Leelanau County. View bigger and see more from Matt on Flickr!

Dance of Light, March of Science

Dance of Light, photo by Eric Hackney

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
― Marie Curie

The NOAA/NWS Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has forecast a G2 level storm for tonight, which may very well produce Northern Lights! The SWPC is an invaluable scientific resource that is wholly produced by our tax dollars. In addition to letting us know when northern lights are possible, the SWPC helps to maintain our modern communication grid when the Sun gets a little extra exuberant.

It’s my heartfelt belief that one of the duties of our government is to work to make our country the leader in scientific advancement. As threats in public health, the environment, and a host of other realms increase, we need to be investing much more in science, not less.

To any who are participating in any of the 15 local Science Marches in Michigan today, the March for Science in Washington DC, or anywhere else, I salute you.

View Eric’s photo bigger and see more in his Personal Favorites slideshow.

PS: Happy Earth Day everyone.

Lions in the Sky: The 2016 Leonid Meteor Shower

aurora-fireball-by-ross-ellet

Aurora Fireball, photo by Ross Ellet

Space.com’s page on How to Watch the Leonids says in part:

The Leonid meteor shower happens every year in November, when Earth’s orbit crosses the orbit of Comet Tempel-Tuttle. The comet makes its way around the sun every 33.3 years, leaving a trail of dust rubble in its wake. When Earth’s orbit crosses this trail of debris, pieces of the comet fall toward the planet’s surface. Drag, or air resistance, in Earth’s atmosphere cause the comet’s crumbs to heat up and ignite into burning balls of fire called meteors.

…The Leonid meteor shower peaks on the night of Thursday, Nov. 17, and early the following morning. Skywatchers might be able to see some meteors as early as Sunday, Nov. 13. However, with a full supermoon slated to rise Monday, Nov. 14, moonlight will likely outshine most meteors, rendering them difficult to see.

But don’t feel bummed if you don’t spot any of the early meteors. The Leonids will continue to graze the night sky until Nov. 21. At this point, the waning moon will be at its third quarter, meaning only half of the moon’s face will illuminate the sky. With less of the moon’s natural light obstructing the view, skywatchers who were unable to see the meteor shower at first will still have a chance to catch the last Leonid meteors.

Ross took this photo in late September of 2014 and writes:

The sky was cloudy most of the night, but at 3:30am there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We made our way to the lakeshore and sure enough the northern lights were dim on the northern horizon. At one point you could hear the howl of a distant wolf pack while the northern lights were out. Then moments later a slow move fireball flashed across the sky. It lasted a couple seconds and the brightness pulsed as it moved through the atmosphere. After that the aurora faded, but several more meteors (some very bright) streaked above us.

View it background bigtacular and see more in his Porcupine Mtns slideshow, and definitely check out his website, Ross Ellet’s Weather & Photography for more!!

PS: Some of the best northern lights on the year happen in November so be sure to keep an eye on the skies!