Space station and (maybe) auroras return to evening sky

A gorgeous northern lights fills the sky over Faskrudsfjordur, Iceland earlier today Feb. 8, 2013. This image was taken by photographer Jónína Óskarsdóttir. Click the photo to see her eye-watering aurora photo gallery.

Alaskans, Norwegians and Icelanders have something in common this week beside the cold. They’ve all been watching displays of the northern lights which have bloomed over Arctic latitudes night after night since late January. I know they’d be happy to share the sight with us in the lower 48, and maybe they’ll have the chance.

Auroras might reach down into the northern U.S. sometime tonight through Sunday. There is a 35% chance for a major storm in far northern latitudes and a 10% chance for minor storming in the mid-north latitudes where much of the world lives. I interpret that to mean a glowing arc pierced by a few rays low in the northern sky.

While not exactly a big blast, it’s worth keeping an eye out for that greeny glow . Since the sun’s been very quiet lately, a solar flare is not behind the uptick in activity. Rather an enhancement in the solar wind is behind the current forecast.

Photo taken Feb. 1, 2013 from Quyta Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada. Looks like it was ideal time for snow-angel-making under the aurora borealis. Credit and copyright: Yuichi Takasaka – www.blue-moon.ca

Joining the night scene will be the International Space Station. It returns to the evening sky for much of the U.S. and Canada starting tomorrow and continuing the next few weeks. Take note of the fine Valentine’s Day pass. The times below are for the Duluth, Minn. region. For times and directions to look for your town, type your zip code into Spaceweather’s Satellite Flybys page or log in to Heavens Above. You can also get free e-mail alerts via NASA’s Spot the Station.

* Sat. Feb. 9 starting at 7:20 p.m. Brief pass low in the southwestern sky
* Sun. Feb. 10 at  6:30 p.m. Travels across the southern sky below Orion
* Mon. Feb. 11 at 7:15 p.m. Brilliant pass up from the west into the southern sky. Disappears into Earth’s shadow below the planet Jupiter at 7:18 p.m.
* Tues. Feb. 12 at 6:24 p.m. Cuts across bottom of Orion’s Belt about 6:28 p.m.
* Weds. Feb. 13 at 7:10 p.m.  Brilliant pass! Just when the ISS is nearly overhead, it fades away as it enters Earth’s shadow about 7:13 p.m.
* Thurs. Valentine’s Day at 6:19 p.m. Bright pass high in the southern sky. Slides under the planet Jupiter about 6:22 p.m. Time it right, and you can give your sweetheart this celestial surprise gift during your night out on the town.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

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