I love it when a forecast proves true. That was the case last night when northern lights were predicted for high latitudes. While Duluth may seem like the Arctic, at 46.7 degrees north, we’re fewer than five degrees of latitude north of Chicago.Â Not exactly high latitude but enough to make a difference.
I noticed the aurora around 10 o’clock as a glowing presence in the northern sky below the Bowl of the Big Dipper. Nothing obvious … at first. About the time I was ready to go to bed, I made the mistake of checking one more time to see if anything new had developed. Uh-oh, that subtle glow had strengthened into a bright green arc. Bye-bye sleep. I dug out camera and tripod and scouted the neighborhood for a spot with a good view to the north.
After midnight things took a new twist.Â Faint spears of light materialized out of nowhere and weird, glowing patches probed the sky above the bright arc. It was fascinating to watch how the arc would intensify in one section and fade in another. All of this happened in the bottom 10 degrees of sky (one outstretched fist). Sky watchers at those higher latitudes – where the aurora was high above the horizon – must have seen a truly great show. Check out this photo taken the same night from Norway by photographer Ole Christian Salomonsen.
The space weather forecast calls for more activity tonight, so it might be worth your while to check the north before you turn in.
The moon is now returning to the evening sky, which means Comet Hartley 2 will soon become more difficult to see in the lunar glow especially in binoculars. The coming few nights you’ll still have good opportunities, but once the moon is 3/4 full, you’d do better to go out and view the comet in the morning sky after moonset. Reports indicate that sky watchers living near bright cities aren’t having much luck finding Hartley 2. Part of the reason for this is because the comet is very diffuse and susceptible to light pollution. The outer suburbs and the countryside are another matter. While you wouldn’t call it bright, Hartley 2 is easy to see in binoculars night after night as it wends its way across northern Perseus. Use the map below to help you find it. Click HERE for a more detailed sky chart.