Surprise In The Sky: Aurora Last Night, Maybe More Tonight

More than a dozen rays of aurora line up across the northern sky earlier this morning. Credit: Bob King

With the moon filling out these nights, seeing northern lights gets harder. Last night, there was a chance of a small storm starting around 1 a.m. (Central time). I happened to be out on a gravel road looking up faint supernovae in the telescope. When I first arrived at this wonderful bit of nowhere around midnight, I looked north to check. Surprise! A half-dozen faint columns of light were just bright enough to see in moonlight. But they went poof five minutes later and that looked to be the end of the display.

This was part of the 5-minute aurora around midnight when the moon was still pretty high. You can see a few fireflies in the bottom of the frame. Credit: Bob King

Then around 1 a.m., the fire relit and a handsome row of a more than a dozen columns stood tall and straight across the northern sky. That display lasted maybe 20 minutes before fading back to a smoky glow. I couldn’t have been the only one to see it because it was a Saturday night around bar closing time.

It looks like aurora but it’s not. Two nights ago, the setting sun reddened the bellies of high clouds near the first quarter moon. You just never know when there will be a surprise in the sky. Credit: Bob King

The aurora was sparked by a CME or coronal mass ejection from the sun earlier in the week. That same blast of solar particles will be tickling Earth’s magnetosphere again this evening as soon as it gets dark. We’ll have that moon problem again, so I can’t say we’ll see much for aurora. I just wanted you to know to look in case the storm intensifies beyond the predicted G1 level.

Another visual delight — a double rainbow from last weekend arches over Lake Superior in Duluth, Minn. The brighter bow is produced by light refracted twice (coming and going out) and reflected once inside of raindrops. The fainter bow with reversed colors is created by light refracted twice and reflected twice inside the raindrops. Credit: Bob King