The chances of aurora showing up in northern Minnesota last night were slender, and yet somehow, there it was. There was a small possibility thanks to a stronger than average solar wind streaming from a coronal hole in the sun’s atmosphere or corona. All the usual indicators – Kp index, the satellite photos of the auroral oval – showed low activity.
Again by chance, I happened to be observing the sky from the boat landing of a small lake north of Duluth, Minn. Around 11 o’clock I could see a little glow coming from behind tall trees lining the lake’s northern shore. Nothing impressive. But shortly before midnight a most remarkable “torch” of pale green light gradually swelled to brilliance all alone in the western sky.
Before it faded away, the aurora grew a long tail like some giant comet about to strike Earth. 20 minutes later it was gone. Isolated blobs like this one are unusual.
Very faint, diffuse bands of aurora striped the northern sky late into the night. You might still see minor activity tonight from the same coronal hole stream. Take a look at the northern sky before you turn in this evening.
Yesterday I wrote about seeing Comet 96P/Machholz in evening twilight. That’s how I ended up along the lake last night – I needed a good horizon to the northwest to find the comet. If you’ve never set up a telescope on a 25 degree incline 6 feet from dark water you haven’t lived.
Mosquitos didn’t make it any easier, but I finally nailed Machholz at 10:30 p.m. It was a small, bright, fuzzy glow through my 15-inch reflector. Like the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld, I suffer for my comets. To lessen your suffering, I’ve made a more detailed chart you can use along with the one from yesterday’s blog. Click it for a larger version.
I hope you enjoyed watching the moon last night. For the northern U.S., its shallow-angled path meant it was low in the sky and set early. Tonight the moon will be a thicker crescent and make an eye-catching foursome with Mars, Saturn and Spica.
Notice that the colors of Saturn, Spica and Mars are much more obvious reflected in the water than seen “raw” in the sky. I think the water not only expands and softens the images, enriching the colors, but the underexposed reflections are more saturated than the normally exposed stars.