Not many of us are up at 2 a.m. and even fewer are on the lookout for northern lights at that early hour. Work colleague Andrew Krueger, who writes the News Tribune Attic blog, took over the aurora vigil when I went to bed around midnight last night and was rewarded with a nice display for his efforts.
I saw only a weak glow behind the trees around 11:45 p.m., but by the wee hours, it had expanded from a simple greenish arc near the horizon into multiple, active arcs.
“The display wasn’t all that well-defined, and not quite the brightest I’ve seen this winter – close, but the duration, movement and scope of the display was definitely the best I’ve seen this winter – possibly the best I’ve seen in 4 1/2 years in Duluth,” said Krueger.
The minor auroral storm was caused by an uptick in the solar wind due to a coronal hole, an open region in the sun’s atmospheric envelope, where high speed subatomic particles leave the sun directly without constraint from solar magnetic fields. Particles from the hole shown in the picture at right are due to arrive on March 4, so be alert for auroras later this week.
I suspect there will be even more northern lights on our doorstep soon. The large sunspot 1164 is ripe for flaring and favorably placedÂ on the sun’s face to deliver a blast. Stay in touch with the sun’s fitful moods by checking out NOAA’s Today’s Space Weather site.
Feel like you need some warmer weather in your life? How about a nice vacation to Easter Island in the South Pacific Ocean? I just checked and it’s going to be 80 degrees there all week.
Wally Pacholka, one of the best astrophotographers around, sent me a couple photos he took there last weekend. He positioned his camera under one of the Moai statues, those enigmatic human figures carved in stone, and photographed Orion in a position impossible to see from the northern hemisphere – upside-down!
When a frostbitten northerner travels south, stars hidden from view pop up from the southern horizon and familiar stars like Orion rise ever higher in the southern sky to make room for the newcomers. By the time you’ve reached the equator, Orion is directly overhead.
Easter Island is another 27 degrees of latitude farther south yet. From there, Orion migrates past the overhead point and into the northern sky. On a clear night in “winter”, which is really their summer, the Winter Hexagon is completely reversed and shining inexplicably in the northern sky. Capella, which is high enough to hurt you neck in Duluth, is low in the north for Easter Islanders. Sirius takes Capella’s place near the zenith.
Voyage to an altered Orion in the Easter Islands? Ah, we can only dream. Still, most adventures begin with little more than entertaining an odd notion.