St. Pat’s Aurora Update Plus A Pleasing Lunar Lineup Tonight

Green auroral rays topped with pink from earlier this morning near Cloquet, Minn. photographed by Matthew Moses

The sun’s wind of particles has been pounding Earth’s defensive magnetic shield since early this morning. A magnificent display of auroras erupted in response. While hurricane winds can reach over 200 mph, they’re nothing compared to solar wind speeds. Top speed for this storm happened at 5:07 a.m. CDT this morning  when electrons and protons hit the magnetosphere at 477 miles per second (767 km/s) or 1.7 million mph. Of course we’re talking about a very dilute soup of particles compared to the far denser atmosphere, hence the destructive power of a hurricane.

The colorful donut shows the extent of the auroral over at 6:53 p.m. Central time this evening recorded by the POES satellite. Red is a good indicator of strong auroral activity. Let’s hope it’s still there when the U.S. rotates under it later this evening. Credit: NOAA

The storm has continued throughout the day at high levels. Judging by recent satellite plots of the auroral ovals, those vast caps of northern and southern lights centered on Earth’s magnetic poles, residents of the Scandinavia countries, Iceland and Greenland must be experiencing a great light show at the moment.

Auroras look to continue into the evening hours tonight for southern Canada and the northern U.S. once darkness returns. The latest forecast calls for minor storms, but you never know. If it’s clear, walk your dog and keep your eyes to the sky.

Watch the moon slowly slip between Jupiter and Aldebaran tonight. This map shows the sky facing southwest around 10:30 p.m. Central time. Stellarium

Even if auroras fail to materialize, the moon has something fun in store. Tonight it will march  directly between the planet Jupiter and Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus the Bull. The three will be closest to a perfect lineup one atop the other around 10:30 p.m. Central time or 8:30 p.m. Pacific. If you look early and then check back a hour or two later, you’ll easily see how quickly the moon moves through the sky as it orbits the Earth.

12 Responses

    1. astrobob

      It doesn’t look good but I’m going to take a look anyway. Sometimes the aurora can look pretty cool pushing through clouds.

  1. Jim Schaff

    Hi Bob,

    Saw Jupiter and the moon tonight from Bali. Quite striking. I also saw Canopus and the Southern Cross. Cool. But I could not find the Large Magellenic Cloud- too much light pollution and it should only be around 20 degrees from the horizon.

    I did not see the comet from here- too many clouds, and it looks like I missed out on some great northern lights. But Indonesia is nice. We toured Borobodur today(an ancient Buddist temple).


    1. astrobob

      Wow Jim – as nice as the northern lights and comet are, your note makes me wish for a trip to a faraway place where there’s humidity and green leaves. We both were looking at the moon last night. Hazy here with high clouds but Jupiter nearby sure looked nice.

  2. Timothy Fleming

    Hi Bob,
    Lots of cloud cover in St. Louis area has prevented me from seeing the comet.

    Will Earth pass through the comet trail this year? Just curious if we get a chance for a new meteor shower.

    Good luck tonight,

    1. astrobob

      I don’t think we’ll pass through the tail. The geometry doesn’t look right for it to happen. The comet passed through the solar system within the orbit of Mercury and has been moving northward above it since. I’ve also heard of no forecasts for meteor showers related to PANSTARRS. I have heard of a possibility with Comet ISON.

  3. Edward M. Boll

    This month has been discouraging a lot of clouds but no comet yet. I am hoping for a clear night tonight as clouds are supposed to be here for a few days again. This morning was clear. I looked for Northern Lights on my way to work but saw none.

    1. astrobob

      I think you’ve had the longest wait of anyone I know. We’re also supposed to be clear tonight. Would like to hear back from you tomorrow of your impressions.

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