What a surprise! The aurora’s been scare for the past few months but returned tonight. Although a modest enhancement in the solar wind was forecast earlier today, there was no indication it might spawn northern lights tonight. I happened to be out with my community education astronomy class. Around 9 p.m. a couple students and I noticed some odd glows in the northeastern sky that changed shape. Since the night was perfectly transparent without fog or cloud I suspected the aurora.
And that’s what I saw on the way home then returned to photograph and share with you. I saw two separate arcs. The lower arc was thick and bright and mottled with active rays that sloshed about in slow motion. The top bank was thinner and fainter with a nice curved shape but without rays.
Because you need an open view to the north for a good view of northern lights you’re necessarily exposed to any winds from that direction. With the temperature at 1° tonight and slashing winds from the northwest at between 15 and 20 mph it wasn’t easy to be outside for long. But the sight of pale green forms dancing in front of my eyes helped to distract me from the numbing pain growing in my fingertips.
Back at home I checked the space weather data and learned that a coronal hole was behind tonight’s display which is still active as I write this. The hole allowed high-speed particles from the sun to spray in Earth’s direction and spark up a minor G1 geomagnetic storm. If you live in the northern states, find an open spot with a view to the north and dress as warmly as possible. Our green friend has returned after a long absence!
(UPDATE Feb. 19: The current forecast indicates the aurora will likely return Wednesday night, Feb. 19 between 9 and midnight CST for the northern regions of the northern states and Canada.)