Watch for auroras on this last night of June

Posers! Cirrus clouds catching twilight’s bright western glow and perhaps a bit of moonlight resemble noctilucent or night-shining clouds. Hints of pink and a more fibrous form gave them away. The REAL noctilucents were much lower in the sky. Photo: Bob King

Since about 4 a.m. this morning, the Kp index, an indicator of geomagnetic activity and aurora borealis, has been pinned at “4″ or just below the minor storm level. The gusty solar wind we talked about yesterday is already rattling its cage, making auroras a possibility for the northern states and Canada tonight. Members of our local Arrowhead Astronomical Society spotted the lights very early this morning from Duluth’s Canal Park. Again, one caveat – the moon is 3/4 full, bright and sets late. Its light may well swamp the aurora’s unless the display is relatively bright.

Close up of true noctilucent clouds glowing pale blue very low in the northern sky last night June 29. At 50 miles high and composed of ice crystals, they’re Earth’s loftiest clouds. Photo: Bob King

Last night, patchy cirrus clouds did an excellent job pretending to be noctilucent clouds. They glowed white well into twilight and had a fibrous texture, but there was something not right about their ever-so-faint pink tinge and lack of “waviness” so prevalent in true noctilucents. By 10:45 p.m. (about 1 3/4 hours after sunset) the cirrus were exposed as impostors when I finally noticed the real item much lower in the northern sky.

Jupiter (top) and Venus shine in the eastern sky over Lake Superior during morning twilight June 30. The two were about 6 degrees apart. In the coming weeks they’ll draw closer together and be joined by the crescent moon. Photo: Bob King

Have you felt the pull of Venus and Jupiter yet? I finally gave in this morning and arose at dawn for a face-to-face with the two luminaries.  They made a most tranquil sight over the big lake around 4 a.m.

Jupiter through a 14-inch telescope on June 20 photographed by Philippines amateur Christopher Go. The wide appearance of the North belt (top) I saw was a combination of the NEB and the further north, narrower belt called the North Temperate Belt.

Back at home, I looked at each in the telescope. Venus was again a crescent but with its horns pointed west, opposite of how we saw it last in the evening sky. Jupiter fluttered about in turbulent air making it difficult to see much detail. I managed the South Equatorial Belt (SEB) –  a dark, easy-to-see stripe – and noticed the odd appearance of the North Equatorial Belt (NEB), which looked pale and unusually wide.

Jupiter’s northern hemisphere has been in meteorological upheaval since the planet’s returned to view in the morning sky.

July begins tomorrow. Mark your calendar for a grand conjunction of the two planets and crescent moon on the morning of the 15th.

4 thoughts on “Watch for auroras on this last night of June

  1. Thanks Bob, knowing you are on duty helped me get back to sleep last night after seeing those two bright objects staring back at me at 4a.m. I knew I could check your space in the morning and find out if we were under attack or not. :) Thanks again.

  2. Hi Bob
    Sorry for being a bit nosey lol but I was just wondering what Ranger was talking about was it about Jupiter and Venus, just wondering as he said about two bright objects in the sky and he was wondering if we were under attack, just got me a wee bit worried lol. Thanks Bob :)

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