Surprise aurora puts on Sunday morning show

Sallie Carlson of Lutsen, Minn. took this photo this morning June 8, 2014. She reported aurora visible overhead and rays bright enough to overtake the light of the gibbous moon. Copyright: Sallie Carlson

Ouch! Missed a great aurora this morning. The potential was there late yesterday afternoon when the magnetic field bundled with the solar wind tilted south and hooked into Earth’s magnetic domain. Activity increased but nothing was visible here in Duluth up till midnight. Moonlight may have washed out any early, low aurora present.

That all changed sometime around 1 a.m. right about the time I entered dreamland. Others who stayed up late reported lots of red rays visible even from moderately light-polluted locations:

“1:45 am. slight calm after 45 mins of intense displays with lots of red showing even in my semi-urban location,” said reader Paul Contant of Penticton, British Columbia, Canada.

Bar chart showing the jump in the Kp index overnight. A southward tip in the interplanetary magnetic field (which originates on the sun) and increase in the speed of the solar wind were responsible for the display. Activity is ramping down this morning but there’s still a chance for auroras tonight. Credit: NOAA

Auroras were seen all the way to the zenith throughout the morning hours as the Kp index, an indicator of magnetic activity high overhead, surged to ’6′ spawning a G2 moderate magnetic storm.

An all-sky aurora with green and purple curtains early starting up about 1:30 CDT and going until dawn as seen from southern Alberta, Canada. The Big Dipper is above the Barn. The purple color is from blue scattered sunlight hitting the red tops of the auroral curtains. Details: 16-35mm lens at f/3.2, 20 seconds at ISO 1600. Copyright: Alan Dyer

This morning’s aurora was a complete surprise. Mostly quiet conditions were expected and still are. NOAA’s space weather center calls for only a small chance for auroras tonight but you better believe I’ll be on the lookout. Let us know if you see anything, too.

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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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