Northern lights alert Feb. 18-19 – They’re out there!

A complete surprise. I was out with my astronomy class this evening and the northern lights suddenly showed around 8:30 p.m. Sure wish I’d brought a tripod. This photo taken on a monopod. Credit: Bob King

It wasn’t in the forecast but then sometimes the best things aren’t. Let’s just say the aurora is cooking away very nicely across the northern sky with rays to 40 degrees high as of 10 p.m. Some nice curtains near the horizon and even color. I’ve seen obvious pink tops on some of the taller, brighter rays.

The aurora died back around 9:30 p.m. but surged again after 10 o’clock. This photo was taken at 10:30 p.m. CST. when much of the northern sky showed good activity. Credit: Bob King

Even though the waning gibbous moon is up, if you have a chance, check out the northern sky. Moonlight lowers the contrast of the display some, but once your eyes are dark-adapted, there was lots to see (at least from 8:30-10:30 p.m.). Hopefully the display will continue long into the night.

Aurora in the northeastern sky around 10:15 p.m. tonight Feb. 18, 2014. Credit: Bob King

An unexpected passage of a high-speed solar wind gust that happened to be pointing in the right magnetic direction (south Bz) hooked into Earth’s protective magnetic field and sparked the display. The Kp index, which slumbered all day in the low activity, green zone shot up into the red at Kp=5 during the early evening.

You can stay in touch with what the aurora’s doing overnight by clicking on the Kp link above as well as the Ovation¬†auroral oval¬†site which shows the extent of the aurora.

Good luck in your viewing!

Extent of the aurora oval around midnight CST Feb. 18-19. The map, based on satellite data, indicates that aurora should be visible at least across the northern tier states. Credit: NOAA

UPDATE 11:45 p.m. CST: Lots of rays and rayed arcs appearing across the north-northeast up to 45 degrees high. The moon is up higher now reducing contrast but still a fine show.

UPDATE 12:10 a.m. Feb. 19 – Intense, thick green arc slung across the bottom half of the northern sky. Pulses of fainter “flaming” aurora rising to the zenith. Sense that a bright eruption might happen soon.

A singular, colorful auroral ray. Its pink top was obvious with the naked eye. Credit: Bob King

UPDATE Feb. 9 a.m. : The aurora lasted the entire night and peaked around 2-3 a.m. It was still rolling in morning twilight.

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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.

12 thoughts on “Northern lights alert Feb. 18-19 – They’re out there!

  1. further west from the upper shores of the Great Lakes, over the vast prairies and the windy, snowy Rockies, I could glimpse a bluish glow to the north-east but just found out the hard way that the neighbour 2 lots over made the purchase of a halogen light for his back yard….to keep the rogue deers, raccoons and owls at bay I suppose…
    Oh well, the evening is still young at 9:45 PM Pacific time and that auroral “bulge” looks promising :)

  2. Finally saw my first auroras tonight!!!! Drove up to rush city from st paul and had a real nice show! The best of it occured around the 2am hr.

  3. I’ve been watching very bright auroral clouds for the past hour. There was a slow show of some movement along with bursts of light (mainly magenta), but it was hard to see because neighbors still have some yard lights on in the distance. We’re out in the country, so they are not as distracting. It was NW with an orange/magenta cloud and a few very bright white clouds overhead. I was out there starting around 8pm and live in western Wisconsin. Will try looking later on tonight. :-)

    • Leza,
      Thanks for writing. Are your skies clear with stars showing? I’m not seeing any auroral activity across the n. U.S. this evening through 9:30 p.m. The magenta sounds like an aurora color but not orange – that sounds suspiciously like light pollution. Let us know more about what you saw.

      • Around 9:30, I saw a small patch of glowing green. Everything else looked like normal clouds. Earlier, starting around 8pm, there were pulses of magenta and white, and the sky was pretty clear–you could see stars in most of the sky. By 9:30, it was getting cloudy. I wanted to take pics of the snow, tomorrow, and was trying to burn DVDs so I’d have room on my cameras’ cards…, but my ‘puter was acting up, so I gave up. Wish I had gotten pics, especially of the green glowing one right overhead. It was really cool! :-)

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