Aurora predictions were dead on. As soon as our lengthy twilight ended Saturday night, the glow of northern lights gave the sky a whitewashed appearance in the north. A green arc simmered very low, but above it, there was little more than a featureless glow.
Around 11:30 p.m. that all changed. Soft, faint rays with hints of blue suddenly stood up across the northern sky as high as the North Star. They ebbed and flowed, fading and flowering, slowly intensifying into what I called the “wall of light”. More distinct rays lit up the northwest beneath the Big Dipper. The display was impressive and literally threw enough light to see your way in the darkness.
Odd pale stripes crossed the sky much further south, reaching from beneath Arcturus all the way east to Pegasus. Time exposure photos revealed them as pale green in color. I’ve seen these curious faint bands of aurora in the southern half of the sky before and still can’t quite figure them out.
It was a pretty show for the dark-adapted eye with lots of slow, pulsing rays, but thanks to the extra sensitivity of the camera, the display proved spectacularly colorful. Pinks and greens from oxygen and delicate blues from nitrogen molecules painted the upper atmosphere. Fireflies added their own flashes of pale green to nightscape.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of aurora watching is getting into their rhythm. Like a work of classical music, a display can unfold in slow and grand style taking hours to reach a crescendo. This storm had that feel. Others hit all the highs and lows in the space of an hour like a Beethoven symphony.
Auroras will likely continue through the remainder of tonight; there’s also a chance of more activity Sunday night. If you haven’t been out yet for a look, the northern sky’s still aglow as of 2:30 CDT.