Weird “teardrop” Aurora Airbrushes The First Night Of Spring

Peculiar teardrop-shaped auroral patch in the northwestern sky this evening near the Pleiades star cluster (upper left). Credit: Bob King
Peculiar teardrop-shaped auroral patch in the northwestern sky this evening near the Pleiades star cluster (upper left). The aurora slowly pulsated in brightness. Credit: Bob King

Just got back from looking at some pretty weird northern lights. A bright teardrop-shaped patch glowed alone low in the northwestern sky around 10:30-11 p.m. 10 minutes later, another oval patch mysteriously appeared in the north. The two swelled in size and length and almost appeared to join … but didn’t . Instead, the teardrop faded away while the oval brightened. Then it slowly disappeared. When I last looked, the oval had returned but was fainter.

The teardrop on the left and oval to the right. Each slowly pulsed, fading and brightening. Credit: Bob King
The teardrop on the left and oval to the right. Each slowly pulsed, fading and brightening. Credit: Bob King

To look at the aurora indicators we’ve tapped into the past few nights — the  Kp index and auroral oval — you’d think there’d be no reason to don hat and coat and go aurora-hunting on cold, windy night. Both indicators are nearly flat, having dropped from minor storm level during the late afternoon (CDT). Yet Earth magnetic bubble keeps on jiggling, shaking out some peculiar forms of aurora.

A closer look at the featureless northern lights oval seen around 11 p.m. in the northern sky. Credit: Bob King
A closer look at the featureless northern lights oval seen around 11 p.m. in the northern sky. Credit: Bob King

One hint that solar excitement still lingers in Earth’s vicinity comes from the live information sent to us by the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satellite, which taps into the Sun’s wind a million miles upstream of our planet. Around 10:30 p.m. (CDT), ACE recorded a southward dip in the magnetic field embedded in the solar wind – perfect for linking into Earth’s field and firing up auroras.

As always, it’s hard to know how long these “glows” may last, but if you’re out, don’t be surprised if you see them. We’re now at five nights in a row and counting for northern lights displays this week. Looks like we’re in for more. The forecast calls for yet another G1 geomagnetic storm Saturday evening (March 21) from about 7-10 p.m. CDT.

10 Responses

  1. Reminds me of 1 particular night in August of 1993 when I attended the Mt.Kobau star party and auroral teardrops like the one you see tonight appeared much to the dismay of the astro-photographers trying to take advantage of that exceptional dark sky site and the aurora “balls” seem to be zooming one after the other from north to south. To me, it looked amazing and I spent the night mesmerized by the sight while most of the star party participants got into their tents or trailers, grumbling under their breath. I ended up watching Orion rise against a background of green glow and the first pre-dawn light. Magic memories are made of this stuff 🙂

    1. astrobob

      Nice tale, BC. I agree. I’ve gone on with hopes of seeing some faint fuzzy or comet over the years and found the sky all lit up with aurora. I give in and try to enjoy it. Those fuzzies will be there for a long, long time.

  2. Bob

    Saw the same thing in SE sky over lake in Grand Marais at 3am. By 3:45 it was in SW sky over Lutsen. Thought I was nuts until I saw this article.

  3. Edward M. Boll

    Looks kind of like a comet. I was going out to look for Lovejoy again tonight. But the week has been long, so will probably give that a break tonight.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Edward,
      I did manage to remember binoculars last night and saw the comet again. Still pretty bright at 6.3 but the tail has shortened. I’m only seeing 1/2 degree now whereas a week ago it was 1.5 degrees in 10x50s.

  4. s maier

    I live in the twin cities. Any chance of seeing them here tonight if I drive out away from some of the lights? I remember seeing them as a kid walking in from helping my Dad in the barn at night….great memories. Thank you Astrobob for posting these beautiful photos. I live my astronomy life vicariously through you.

    1. astrobob

      Hi S. Maier,
      I don’t think tonight’s forecast is worth a drive. Just a minor disturbance is tap. Sunday night might be better, but we’ll see. Thank you for your kind words about the blog.

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