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!

Morning on the Dunes

Morning on the Dunes, photo by Owen Weber

Here’s a phenomenal shot of the sunrise on Glen Lake from atop the dunes in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

View Owen’s photo bigger and see more in his Michigan album.

Textures of Sleeping Bear Dunes

Textures, photo by JamesEyeViewPhotography

View the photo from the Sleeping Bear Dunes background bigtacular, see more in James’ The Great Lakes slideshow, and follow James Eye View Photography on Facebook.

Feeling Free at Pierce Stocking

feeling-free

Feeling Free, photo by Matt Kazmierski

Few places in Michigan have the expansive view of the Lake Michigan overlook on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It’s 450′ feet down to the water, so remember that freedom comes at a price!

View Matt’s photo bigger and see more in his slideshow.

Soaring Saturday: Hang Gliding in Michigan

coming-in-by-david-clark

Coming In, photo by David Clark

USA Today has a feature on Hang Gliding Sites in Michigan that says (in part):

Most individuals will need lessons in hang gliding from a certified instructor prior to their first flight. Hang gliding schools provide instructions, gear, permits and safety equipment. The Draachen Fliegen Soaring Club is located in Cloud 9 Field between Detroit and Lansing, with instructors offering “tandem discovery” flights lasting from 15 minutes to one hour. Gliders drift in air space up to two miles high, in tandem with an instructor. Individuals with proven experience and certifications may rent gliders for solo flights. Traverse City Hang Gliders offers full programs of training and instruction in both traditional powerless hang gliding and “the Mosquito” powered hang gliding harness.

Hang gliding enthusiasts can enjoy practicing the sport at national parks within the state of Michigan, including Sleeping Bear Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Several spots within the park are approved for powerless flight. Hang gliders can take off and land at Empire Bluff, Pyramid Point and Lake Michigan Overlook on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, as well as Dune Climb in the months of November through March. Powerless flight permits are required and can be obtained free of charge at the Visitor Center Information Desk. Launch sites within the park require proficiency ratings established by the U.S. Hang Gliding Association. Gliders must also follow safety and federal regulations. Warren Dunes State Park also issues permits for hang gliding along the coastal dunes, about 14 miles from the state border with Indiana. Favorite launch and return sites within the park include Tower Hill and New Buffalo.

In the 1970s, Elberta Beach and the adjacent city of Frankfort, in Northern Michigan, were popular spots for what was then the new sport of hang gliding. Once referred to as the “Sail Plane Capital,” the area is still a magnet for gliders today. Just south of Frankfort, gliders can experience the thrill of soaring over sand dunes at Green Point Dunes. The Green Point Flyers Association, established in 1978, is a club for both hang gliders and parasailers, with a main flying site that is a sand dune stretching for three miles at a height of 370 feet. Licenses are required to fly at Green Point, and certified instructors are available. Pilots at Green Point also have access to hang gliding sites inside the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, as well as the bluffs of Elberta. Visitors can also team up for a ride with members of the Northwest Soaring Club, which is located in Cadillac, Michigan. Flights depart from the Wexford County Airport, then cruise over Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac.

View David’s photo background bigilicious, see more in his Turning 42 slideshow, and view and purchase work at leelanauphotography.com!

If you’d like to get a look at the process, here’s a video of aerial photographer Jim Anderson taking a flight from the Bluffs!

Perseid Explosion at Day Farm

Definitely watch Ken’s Perseid video at the end!

D H Day Farm ... perseid meteor shower

D H Day Farm … perseid meteor shower, photo by Ken Scott

I’ve shared this before, but Space.com has an interesting story about how the upcoming Perseid Meteor shower (peak August 11-13) came to be known as “The Tears of St. Lawrence” and also some of the science behind this annual August sky show:

Laurentius, a Christian deacon, is said to have been martyred by the Romans in 258 AD on an iron outdoor stove. It was in the midst of this torture that Laurentius cried out: “I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other.”

The saint’s death was commemorated on his feast day, Aug. 10. King Phillip II of Spain built his monastery place the “Escorial,” on the plan of the holy gridiron. And the abundance of shooting stars seen annually between approximately Aug. 8 and 14 have come to be known as St. Lawrence’s “fiery tears.”

…We know today that these meteors are actually the dross of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Discovered back in 1862, this comet takes approximately 130 years to circle the Sun. With each pass, it leaves fresh debris — mostly the size of sand grains with a few peas and marbles tossed in.

Every year during mid-August, when the Earth passes close to the orbit of Swift-Tuttle, the bits and pieces ram into our atmosphere at approximately 37 miles per second (60 kps) and create bright streaks of light.

Read on for more including diagrams and viewing tips.

Ken Scott captured these Perseid meteors last August over a 2 1/2 hour period at the D.H. Day Farm in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. He says that the barn is lit by rogue lightning and that this is a composite of many meteor images, where each photo is rotated around the north star so that the ‘point of origin’ of the shower can be seen better. He understands it visually but not scientifically – anyone have a simple explanation for him?

View his photo bigger, see more in his Skies Above slideshow, and view and purchase his work at kenscottphotography.com.

Making the Leap

Leaping off Pyramid Point

Untitled, photo by Todd Richter

Happy Leap Day everyone and here’s hoping that this quadrennial occurrence adds a little fun to your life! Borgna Brunner lays down Leap Year 101:

Leap years are added to the calendar to keep it working properly. The 365 days of the annual calendar are meant to match up with the solar year. A solar year is the time it takes the Earth to complete its orbit around the Sun — about one year. But the actual time it takes for the Earth to travel around the Sun is in fact a little longer than that—about 365 ¼ days (365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds, to be precise). So the calendar and the solar year don’t completely match—the calendar year is a touch shorter than the solar year.

It may not seem like much of a difference, but after a few years those extra quarter days in the solar year begin to add up. After four years, for example, the four extra quarter days would make the calendar fall behind the solar year by about a day. Over the course of a century, the difference between the solar year and the calendar year would become 25 days! Instead of summer beginning in June, for example, it wouldn’t start until nearly a month later, in July. As every kid looking forward to summer vacation knows—calendar or no calendar—that’s way too late! So every four years a leap day is added to the calendar to allow it to catch up to the solar year.

Read on for more and enjoy your day.

Todd took this shot back in August of 2009 at one of my favorite spots for hiking (and jumping) – the Pyramid Point overlook in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Lake Michigan is hundreds of feet down a steep bluff from the point where she’s jumping, and many is the person who wished they didn’t run down that bluff after toiling up it!

View Todd’s photo background bigtacular and see more in his digital slideshow.

More dunes on Michigan in Pictures!