(Photo: Jonathan Tucker)
The good news is that the northern lights hit the heights this weekend, with auroral displays visible as far south as Illinois — and the bad news wasn’t all that bad. Sure, the glare of the “Harvest Moon” interfered somewhat, but you could argue that the moonlight added some extra shine to the show.
The northern lights are such a subtle phenomenon that they’re best seen from the countryside, far from city lights, and that was the case for Jonathan Tucker, who captured the “September Lights” you see above on Sunday night, near Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory.
(Photo: Ed Stockard)
Summer isn’t even over in the Northern Hemisphere, but the season of the northern lights is clearly getting an early start.
Saturday’s autumnal equinox marks the traditional start of the aurora season in Arctic regions, and with solar activity building up to the top end of its 11-year cycle, we can expect more than the usual allotment of glow-in-the-dark skies. For some reason, this last week of summer has been particularly active on the sun.
The solar storm that swept past Earth over the weekend didn’t disrupt any power grids, but it did turn on the auroral lights for skywatchers over a wide swath of North America, extending at least as far down as Arkansas.
SpaceWeather.com cataloged stunning photos from the usual places in northern climes, including Canadian provinces as well as the northern tier of the United States. But this particular solar storm — sparked by last Thursday’s big coronal mass ejection, or CME — didn’t stop there. Photographers sent in pictures from Arkansas as well as Ohio, Nebraska, Utah, California and other locales well south of the usual places. There were auroral images as well from Scotland, Hungary, and yes, from New Zealand, Tasmania and the South Pole at the other end of the world.
The northern lights fill the sky over the south shore of Lake Superior east of Superior, Wis. above Duluth, Minn., pictured above, and are also seen in the sky over Lake Elora in northern Minnesota early, July 15, below. A solar storm sparked the show in the skies over the Upper Midwest and could also be active tonight.
A crack in the magnetic field sounds like the start of a sci-fi movie, but it’s actually an opportunity for a beautiful auroral light show — as seen in these pictures.
SpaceWeather.com’s Tony Phillips says the interplanetary magnetic field near Earth experienced a fluctuation last night and tipped south, opening a crack for electrically charged particles to interact with atoms and ions in the upper atmosphere. “Solar wind poured in and ignited the lights,” he wrote.
A double-burst of solar particles sparked auroral lights over the weekend, as expected — but at least in some parts of the world, the colors were not what you’d expect. Instead of the typical greenish glow, observers reported seeing reds, pinks, violets and even blues.
"It’s been many years since I saw the blue in our auroras, but Saturday night they came back," John Welling reported in a note accompanying the photo he posted to SpaceWeather.com.
"I quickly went and took some pictures in a regular spot of mine, and thought to myself that I had got some good aurora shots and also some separate good milky way shots. But just as the clouds started to come in over the mountains I noticed this faint aurora lining up perfectly beside the milky way. Normally the lights from the aurora is much, much stronger than the lights from the stars, so getting the right exposure on both is difficult. But it was ideal conditions - almost once in a lifetime."
Read more on amateur photographer Tommy Eliassen’s time-lapse trifecta of the Northern Lights, a meteor and the Milky Way here.