If you stayed up late or got up this morning before dawn you may have seen the northern lights. I drove to a beautiful, buggy field a little north of Duluth, Minn. and set up a camera hoping to capture sprites over a distant thunderstorm. In the 128 photos I took not one sported a sprite, an eerie form of cold, pink lightning that briefly appears over the tops of powerful thunderstorms. But I sure enjoyed all the flashes — there were hundreds! — and I did manage to capture a rare blue starter. Blue starters are a form of upper atmospheric lightning that shoots upward from a thundercloud into clear air.
Aurora was in the forecast as described in yesterday’s blog, but nothing showed even as late as 11 o’clock. Then, all at once about 11:30 p.m., I noticed the faintest glow only a few degrees above the northern horizon. Five minutes later it was more distinct and within 10 minutes you could spot it with a casual glance.
Over the next hour, the arc thickened and brightened until it stood 12° (more than a fist held vertically at arm’s length) above the northern horizon. Beneath it a second arc formed and developed pleated rays resembling a Scotsman’s kilt. I watched until 12:30 this morning when clouds slid in from the west and eventually covered the sky around 1 a.m. From other reports I’ve seen, including one from as far south as Iowa, the aurora continued through the night. You wouldn’t call it a spectacular show, but watching the ebb and flow of even a small aurora is enough for me.
The space weather forecast predicts another minor G1 storm for tonight just like last night. Generally, the later you’re out the better. If the sky is clear and especially if you live in the northern half of the northern border states it’s worth your while to step out for a look. Remember to pick a spot where the northern sky isn’t aglow with light pollution and allow your eyes at least 10 minutes to get used to the darkness. Early auroras can be faint until (or if) they strengthen. Bring bug repellant and a chair, then relax and wait. I had the crickets, katydids, the Milky Way and a host of stars to keep me company. Expect nothing and you’ll have a great night out.