Smelt run, auroras blaze and Saturn’s rings glitter

Smelters use nets to scoop up smelt running in the Lester River in Duluth last night. Photo: Bob King

I was fortunate to be outside last night photographing the annual smelt run at Lester River and Park Point beach when the aurora first appeared. Like a flower ready to open, it began as a glow behind a distant cloud bank. When the clouds finally moved out, the entire northern sky had bloomed into a wall of bright, diffuse light slowly pulsing with soft rays.

Ever been overwhelmed but don’t know when to quit? My work continued until nearly midnight, but all the while I had my eye on those lights and planned to make a drive to a dark sky when done. I called it quits around midnight, but by then clouds had returned. For a change I got a few hours of sleep. The lights raged on all night for those lucky enough to have clear skies.

The auroral oval, one of two regions of auroral activity centered on Earth's magnetic poles, crept southward last night grazing the northern U.S. and southern Canada. The red line is a conservative estimate of the aurora's visibility. Click image to see the current extent of the oval. Credit: NOAA

Don’t tuck your camera and warm coat away yet. NOAA space weather forecasters predict another hit from the sun Thursday the 26th. There’s also a small chance for continued activity tonight.

Saturn’s and its bright “companion” Spica are now well up in southeastern sky at the end of twilight. The Cassini probe, which has been photographing and studying the planet and its many moons since 2004, continues to send us delightful surprises.

This set of six images obtained by NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows trails that were dragged out from Saturn's F ring by objects about a half mile (1 kilometer) in diameter. Scientists have seen more than 500 of these kinds of trails in over 20,000 images collected by Cassini from 2004 to 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/QMUL

NASA scientists working with Cassini images recently discovered strange, half-mile-sized objects punching into Saturn’s distant F-ring. The objects collide with icy ring particles at around 4 mph and draw bits of material out into glittering streamers or trails. Scientists are calling them “mini-jets”; they range from 20 to 110 miles long. In 20,000 images surveyed, 500 showed the jets.


Video with great imagery that provides more details on how the mini-jets form.

The clumps of material that do the pulling appear to be manufactured on the spot by gravitational interactions between the moon Prometheus and the F-ring. Prometheus, 53 miles across, warps and compresses parts of the ring forcing ice particles to stick together into temporary bodies. Some later break up while other persist, plow into the F-ring and create the mini-jets. Smelt, aurora, mini-jets at Saturn – is this a wonderful universe or what?

2 thoughts on “Smelt run, auroras blaze and Saturn’s rings glitter

  1. I know I had asked you before… But people are taking pictures of Chemtrails and saying they are the cause of weather control what do you think??.. If they are not chemtraila what are they for?? Do they increase earthquakes and natural disasters and affect space??

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