How about this cool satellite photo taken of Monday morning’s aurora? The Earth-observing research satellite called Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) snapped this view of the aurora borealis from 512 miles up early on the morning of October 8, 2012.
Stretching across Canada, the aurora there would have created a brilliant overhead display. Further south in the northern U.S., lucky sky watchers who got up early saw the same aurora as tall rays unfurling across the northern sky. The loopy curls you see in the photo are a small fraction of a much larger ring-shaped structure called the auroral oval.
Auroras form in two large rings centered on Earth’s geomagnetic poles which are not lined up with the geographic north and south poles. At present the north geomagnetic pole is located in far northern Canada. When we see auroras in the northern hemisphere, they’re also active to the same degree in the southern hemisphere. New Zealanders see their version of the northern lights called the aurora australis or southern lights.
Auroras don’t have to directly overhead to be visible. Since they form 60 to 250 miles up, the fact that they “stand so tall” lets us see them hundreds of miles to the south.
Geomagnetic storms, sparked by material blasted from the sun either from solar storms called flares or “quieter” coronal holes, pushes on our planet’s magnetic bubble or magnetosphere. sending cascades of particles along lines of magnetic force straight into the polar atmosphere. There they excite molecules of oxygen and nitrogen to glow green, pink, purple and red as aurora.
This morning at 8:03 a.m. (CDT) Commander Suni Williams aboard the International Space Station (ISS) used robotic Canadarm 2 to grab and install the Dragon cargo ship to its docking port.
I had hoped we’d be able to watch the ship approach the station, but good evening passes for many U.S. observers don’t begin until this evening. Dragon will remain at the space station for 18 days. On October 28, astronauts will detach it and direct it earthward for a splashdown 6 hours later in the Pacific Ocean. Since viewing opportunities are good through the end of the month, some of us will be able to watch its departure.
Below are viewing times for the International Space Station for the Duluth, Minn. region. For times for other cities, please go to Spaceweather satellite flybys site or log in to Heavens Above. The ISS will look like the brightest “star” in the evening sky as it travels from west to east. And before I forget, that shiny object photographed by Curiosity on Mars earlier this week appears to be a piece of plastic that somehow got loose from the rover.
* Weds. evening Oct. 10 starting at 7:25 p.m. low across the south-southeast.
* Thurs. Oct. 11 at 8:11 p.m. A short pass in the southwest-south before disappearing in Earth’s shadow.
* Fri. Oct. 12 at 7:22 p.m. Nice pass across the southern sky.
* Sat. Oct. 13 at 8:09 p.m. Comes up from the southwest and rises all the way up to the zenith before fading away in Earth’s shadow.
* Sun. Oct. 14 at 8:20 p.m. Nice high and bright pass across the top of the sky.
* Mon. Oct. 15 at 8:08 p.m. across the north. Enters Earth’s shadow and fades away just east of the North Star.