Aurora alert through Sunday night Dec. 20-21 / Aurora link updates

The auroral oval has been expanding southward toward the northern U.S. overnight. If you live in the border states, there’s a good chance you’ll see some activity tonight-tomorrow morning. This map shows the oval around 12:45 a.m. Sunday morning Dec. 21st. Credit: NOAA

Auroras are on the prowl. A glancing punch from a coronal mass ejection on December 17th coupled with a more direct hit from another blast on the 18th are already goosing Earth’s magnetic bubble this evening and will continue through Sunday evening. NOAA predicts the latter will cause moderate to major storming starting early Sunday morning (Dec. 21)  through midnight Sunday night. Judging from the map, we’d see aurora here in Duluth, Minn. were the sky clear.

Tomorrow beginning at 5:03 p.m. (CST) marks the start of winter, the shortest day and longest night of the year. Wouldn’t it be nice to fill that night with auroras?

NOAA recently updated many of the space weather websites including changing the addresses. Here are the new links for you to bookmark:

* 30-minute Aurora Forecast (the old Ovation oval)
* Planetary K-index (the old 3-day Kp index)
* ACE Real-time solar wind
* 3-day forecast

The X1.8 flare around 6:45 p.m. (CST) Friday evening is a brilliant beacon in the light of far ultraviolet light as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA

Meanwhile, sunspot region 2242 erupted with a strong X1.8 flare on Friday evening December 20th (CST). Lots happening.

Cloudy or not I’ll be monitoring the upcoming bumpy weather and post updates as necessary. Let us know if you see anything.


The Geminids ain’t over yet! Meteor shower update

Jeff Stephens created this composite of all the Geminids he caught during the peak hours on the morning of December 14th from central Louisiana. His camera faced north. Click for more of Jeff’s images. Credit: Jeff Stephens

An overcast of biblical proportions has hidden the sky at my home for 9 nights in a row. But even without seeing a single Geminid meteor, I can tell you this – the shower’s been fantastic. NASA’s network of all-sky cameras detected more than 200 fireballs and the International Meteor Organization’s quicklook data show a peak of 155 meteors an hour around 10 p.m. (CST) December 13th.

Though past maximum, bits and pieces of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, the meteor shower’s parent, will continue to zip through the atmosphere over the next few nights. We may even be see some larger fireballs. The Geminids arrive pre-sorted, with the smallest meteoroids appearing early on, followed by larger crumbs and small rocks later.

Diagram of the inner solar system showing the orbits of Geminid fireballs (and a few other bright meteors) on December 14th. They intersect at the blue dot, which represents Earth, and are color-coded by velocity, from slow (red) to fast (blue) based on information from NASA’s all-sky camera network that scans the skies above the U.S. Automated software determines the orbits and other characteristics of the incoming meteors. Credit: NASA/ Bill Cooke

The moon has continued to slim down and is now a crescent rising well after midnight. Best viewing times will be from about 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. There’s also a decent chance for a small auroral display tonight for the northern U.S. and southern Canada.  You’ll find more about the Geminids HERE.

Zoltan Kenwell got a nice auroral surprise when he stepped out to watch the Geminid meteor shower near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada yesterday morning December 14th. Click to see more of Ken’s aurora photography. Credit: Zoltan Kenwell

Heck of a place to watch a meteor shower … and northern lights. Zoltan Kenwell kicks back and takes it all in Sunday morning. Credit: Zoltan Kenwell

Click play and see the aurora sizzle and blaze in real time

Singe frame from the new video “Soaring”, one of the best real-time aurora videos. It was taken with a Sony A7S camera. This image shows a vivid coronal aurora near the zenith. Credit: Ole Solomonsen

We’ve often shared pictures and videos of the northern lights here, but wait till you see the latest video from Norwegian landscape photographer Ole Salmonsen. Salomonsen has been shooting still images and time-lapse video of the aurora for years. This week he posted a brand new movie of the aurora shot from late August through mid-November in real-time. You heard correctly – no sped-up, compressed time.This is the aurora moment-to-moment just the way you’d see it live.

“Soaring” by Ole Salomonsen

There are lots of nice touches in the video including scenes of Tromsø, Norway (where Ole is based), a woman staring into the sky and several truly amazing panned sequences that look to me like they were shot with a drone. What’s your opinion?

Although Ole’s work isn’t the first real-time aurora movie, this might be the best effort to date. The slowness of the initial sequences makes a striking contrast with later views of the coronal aurora unfolding at lightning speed and helps us to appreciate the complex rhythms that pulse through active displays.

I love it and hope you will too. For more on how the film was done, check out Ole’s site. Salomonsen tells me this work is just a small sample of what’s to come. Stay tuned!

Awesome Iceland aurora time-lapse and a bear claw sunspot

Joe Capra’s recently released time lapse of aurora over Iceland and Greenland

Nice work! Take a peek at Joe Capra’s recent 10-day shoot of the aurora and you’ll be licking your chops to fly to Greenland on the next available plane. Capra used three Canon 5D Mark III cameras with various Canon lenses to shoot hundreds of individual photos that he later stacked into a video. The reflections on ice and water are spectacular.

A low, green aurora in the northern sky on November 19th sparked by a coronal hole. Credit: Bob King

Here in the northern U.S., the aurora’s been snoozing. Even though gusts of solar wind from a leaky coronal hole have tickled Earth’s magnetic domain the past few nights, conditions have remained below storm level. The aurora’s been a constant but quiet presence like the embers of an overnight fire.

More low aurora simmers in the north last night (Nov. 20) around 11 o’clock. The band of northern lights, called the aurora oval, hovers directly over places like Iceland and Greenland, so people there get to see displays nearly every dark night of the year. It takes coronal holes, flares and other kinds of heightened solar activity to expand the oval so skywatchers in lower latitudes get their chance. Credit: Bob King

Expect the same horizon-hugging aurora for the next couple nights as the hole in the Sun’s magnetic canopy continues to send pinging particles our way.

That giant sunspot that’s made it through a second rotation of the Sun has been nothing but a tease when it come to flares. On its return a week ago, the group possessed the magnetic complexity to unleash powerful X-class flares, but so far, all’s been quiet on the solar front.

Sunspot group 2209 (older 2192) mimics a bear claw in this photo taken on November 19th by French amateur astronomer Philippe Tosi with an 8-inch telescope. Earth shown for size. Click to see more of his amazing high-resolution Sun image. Credit: Philippe Tosi

Flares aside, the region makes a great sight in the telescope. Shaped like a bear claw, the main spot in the group still spans more than three Earths. Philippe’s photo beautifully shows the fiber-like texture of the outer penumbra fringing the darker umbras.

Sunspots are cooler regions on the Sun’s surface – the reason they appear darker – where strong magnetic fields insulate those areas from their hotter surroundings. Notice the rice grain texture of the background. Called granules, each one’s about the size of Texas and represents an individual cell of hot solar gas rising from below like bubbles in a pot of boiling water. At the surface, the gas cools and sinks back down along the tiny, dark channels separating one from another. Re-heated, they rise again.

Cloudy? Snowy? That won’t stop you from seeing THIS aurora

Aurora flyover in high-def video from the International Space Station

Wish it had been clear at dawn this morning. Some of us would have seen a very nice aurora. As predicted, Earth’s magnetic bubble got slammed by a package of high-speed solar wind overnight that fired up the northern lights. The impact continues to reverberate with more activity expected tonight.

No matter the weather or circumstance, I think you’ll enjoy this high-definition video taken from the International Space Station. The curls, rolls and flashing purple flames are, well, incredible. And there’s nothing quite like looking down on the aurora from an altitude of 250 miles (402 km). As the camera pans, you’ll also see the delicate green film of airglow, which is distinct from the northern lights – airglow surrounds the entire planet like a membrane around a cell.

Green, streaky airglow seen from the ground on July 22, 2014. Its faint light is half the reason you can always see around on even the darkest nights. The other light is provided by the stars. Credit: Bob King

Ultraviolet light from the daytime sun ionizes or knocks electrons off of oxygen and nitrogen atoms and molecules; at night the electrons recombine with their host atoms, releasing energy as light of different colors including green, red, yellow and blue.  The brightest emission, the one responsible for creating the airglow so often seen in space station nighttime images and videos, stems from excited oxygen atoms beaming emerald green light.

Forget about the clouds and take a ride with the astronauts where it’s forever clear.

Aurora alert tonight through Monday night Nov. 9-10

Aurora smolders beneath the Big Dipper tonight November 9th around 7 p.m. Credit: Bob King

Around 7 p.m. this evening, just before moonrise, a smoky green glow fired up beneath the Big Dipper low in the northern sky. The Moon rose and clouds soon followed, but we might be in for a couple nights of northern lights.

Cirrostratus clouds at moonrise this evening refracted moonlight into a pretty halo. Caught in the semi-circle is the Hyades star cluster (lower right). The Pleiades are at upper right. Credit: Bob King

A coronal mass ejection that launched from the Sun on November 7th will arrive overnight and could produce minor to moderate (G1-G2) geomagnetic storms now through midnight Monday night. The strongest activity is expected between 3-9 a.m. (CST) tomorrow morning.

A blast of high-speed electrons and protons from the Sun on November 7 looks like it may affect Earth overnight and into Monday. Credit: NASA/ESA

Tonight’s little taste will hopefully be a sign of more to come.

Auroras in the north tonight Oct. 14-15

Aurora low in the northern sky around 10:30 p.m. CDT this evening October 14, 2014. Credit: Bob King

Earlier this evening, a glancing blow from a solar blast that left the sun on October 10th jiggled Earth’s magnetic domain to produce a modest display of northern lights. Forecasters originally expected the coronal mass ejection (CME) to miss Earth. My astronomy class and I noticed a low arc in the north as early as 8:30 p.m. A half hour later, the arc broke apart into a beautiful set of evenly-spaced rays across the northern sky.

These slowly faded back to a quiet glow as if the aurora decided to take a nap and then re-brightened about 9:30. Right now at 11 p.m. the display has returned to a quiet arc about 5 degrees above the northern horizon directly below the Big Dipper. Something about it reminds me of a pale green feather boa.

The Kp index, a measure of how magnetically disturbed the upper atmosphere is, hit 5 this afternoon and evening, the mark of a minor geomagnetic storm. Auroras are usually seen across the northern border states when Kp=5. Credit: NOAA

NOAA space weather shows a G1 minor geomagnetic storm underway since the afternoon. Activity may be dropping off now, but it’s hard to say for sure, so keep a lookout for auroras tonight if you live in the northern states and southern Canada. Besides aftereffects of the solar blast, a chance for more auroras will continue the next couple nights due to “solar sector boundary crossings”. These are changes in the direction of the magnetic field within the solar plasma (electron and proton mix) that continually streams from the sun called the solar wind.

Coronal holes spark auroras Sept. 26-27 — more possible next 2 nights

The aurora around 1 a.m. CDT this morning. Curious forms twisted away in the northern sky in the Big Dipper. Details: 20mm lens, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 20-second exposure. Credit: Bob King

I apologize for not sending an alert earlier, but I was away from the computer and out under the sky tonight. Streams of solar wind from openings in the sun’s magnetic canopy called coronal holes kicked up auroras overnight for the northern states and Canada.

At 9:15 p.m. Friday night the aurora laid low in the northern sky. The arc is the curved border of the auroral oval that’s centered on Earth’s geomagnetic pole. Credit: Bob King

The display began and remained a very low arc from end of twilight until around 11 p.m. CDT when it slowly widened and brightened. The Kp index reached “4″ at that time, not quite a G1 geomagnetic storm but certainly pushing the threshold. Then at 12:20 the arc became brighter and more distinct and split into an exquisite set of short, parallel rays like keys on a piano. Faint rays reached halfway to the zenith as patches of aurora flashed on and off below.

Nice long rays stretch over the forest near Duluth, Minnesota U.S. early this Saturday morning September 27, 2014. Credit: Bob King

While modest, the display was active with a steady supply of rays and pulsating patches, but it never expanded beyond the northern half of the northern sky. Coronal hole effects will linger the next two nights, so be on alert for auroras to appear again.

Check out the aurora! It’s on tonight Sept. 23-24

A fine aurora with many small rays spread across the northern sky around 10 p.m. CDT this evening September 23, 2014. Credit: Bob King

If the sky is clear and you live in the northern U.S. the northern lights are visible right now at 10-10:30 p.m. CDT. Not a huge display, but there’s a broad greenish arc/glow across the northern sky streaked with rays that reach up to the North Star. Very pretty.

A few bright rays below the Bowl and Handle of the Big Dipper at 10:15 p.m. Credit: Bob King

No telling how long it might last, but it’s been out at least since 9:30. No storms, not even minor ones, were in the forecast, but there you have it anyway. The Kp index is currently at “4″ just below minor storm level and the direction of the magnetic field bundled with the solar wind has been tipped south (a good direction for linking up with Earth’s field) for about the past 7 hours. Let’s hope it sticks around!

* Update Weds. September 24 – We’re right on the edge tonight with a chance for a minor display of aurora according to the most recent forecast.

Extent of the auroral oval around 10:30 p.m. CDT shows expansion to the south. Notice the view line brushes the northern states. Click to see current oval. Credit: NOAA

Minor aurora alert tonight Sept. 18-19

The auroral oval has expanded south this evening (11:45 p.m. CDT) in response to favorable changes in the solar wind. Observers in northern Minnesota, Maine and other borderland states should be watchful for auroras overnight. Credit: NOAA

Observers in the northern U.S. and southern Canada should be alert for auroras tonight. The direction of the magnetic field has been mostly south for the past 8 hours, providing a nice linkage into Earth’s magnetic bubble. It’s cloudy in Duluth, Minn., but the Ovation oval plot (above) would indicate visible aurora low in the northern sky from northern Minnesota, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and northern Maine around 11-11:30 p.m. CDT.

* Update Friday, Sept. 19 — Minor storming is also possible tonight from higher latitudes in the U.S.