Aurora borealis and food for the soul

The Aurora Borealis in Manitowish Waters, Wis. Photo: Bob King

Just returned from a visit to snowy northern Wisconsin where I ran across a new restaurant I’ll have to check out sometime. What astronomy enthusiast wouldn’t? ┬áIt’s called the Aurora Borealis and I bet they serve up more than protons and electrons. A quick look at the reviews shows high praise for the crab cakes. You can find it in the wee town of Manitowish Waters.

Aurora borealis near Tromso, Norway on the evening of Dec. 15, 2012. The ice was perfect for skating. Details: Canon 5D Mark III + Nikon 14-24 f/2.8. Click photo for large version. Credit: Ole Salomonsen

The real aurora’s been scare of late at mid-latitudes but not so in the Arctic. Ace aurora photographer Ole Salomonsen took this photo on Dec. 15 he called “Cracks on Ice” from near Tromso in northern Norway. With ice 16 inches thick conditions were perfect for skating. Sadly, Salomonsen didn’t bring a pair. Should I ever have the experience of skating while the aurora wriggled overhead, I promise to face my inevitable death with a happy face.

The sun photographed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Explorer at 3:15 p.m. (CST) today. Credit: NASA

Auroras are closely linked to solar activity, which has been on the wimpy side the past month. At the moment there is only one developing sunspot region kicking out modest C-class flares – Region 1635.

Prospects look better on the solar farside, which has been throwing fits the past 48 hours, spitting out streams of high-speed protons and electrons in the form of coronal mass ejections.

A backside CME (coronal mass ejection) photographed by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory around 7 a.m. (CST) this morning. The sun, shown as the white circle, is hidden from view by an occulting disk. Credit: NASA/ESA

While none of these are aimed toward Earth, these farside blasts could mean that sunspot activity there is picking up.

If we’re lucky, we’ll start seeing what appear to be several large, active sunspot regions as they rotate around to the nearside in the coming days.

Perhaps chances for northern lights will come along with them.

Let’s hope so. I’m sure you’ll agree that the aurora borealis is real good food (for the soul).

Ultraviolet photos taken by the STEREO behind and STEREO ahead solar observatories this afternoon which can see the backside of the sun. Many of the bright blobs you see are sunspot groups on the sun’s farside. Credit: NASA

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