Tracking the Aurora Borealis

As our Sun continues through the current solar maximum we should have plenty of opportunities to view one of the most sublime of all natural spectacles, the Aurora Borealis.

Aurora Borealis
A strong auroral display over St. Johns Harbor, Alaska on the evening of September 4, 2012
While traveling in Alaska and other northern regions there is always a possibility of a good showing. To make the most of the opportunity a little information cane be useful…

Solar Activity

Solar activity waxes and wanes in an eleven year cycle. When active there are increased numbers of sunspots and solar flares. It is this activity that can have such a dramatic effect here on Earth. A strong solar flare can be accompanied by a release of enormous quantities of material from the Sun. Called a coronal mass ejection (CME) this material streams outwards from the Sun. If the Earth happens to be in the path this material will strike the Earth’s magnetic field, causing the field to distort and reverberate with the impact. Charged particles are channeled into the atmosphere along the magnetic field to create a glowing spectacle.

Our current solar maximum should run through 2013 and into 2014 providing excellent auroral viewing conditions for the next year or two.

Continue reading “Tracking the Aurora Borealis”

Geomagnetic Storm Warning

At 00:28UT March 7th (14:28HST March 6th) our Sun let loose with a X5-class solar flare. This is the largest event in many years, and the impact will be felt here on Earth later today. We can expect a major geomagnetic storm when the mass of charged particles strikes the Earth’s magnetic field sometime around 0625UT (±7hr) on March 8th (2025HST March 7th).

Skywatchers at all latitudes have a chance of seeing aurora.

Yes, this means a chance of seeing aurora here in Hawai’i. I have seen aurora in southerly locations, including Tucson at 32° latitude. It is possible given a strong enough event. Fortunately the tropical storm we have experienced for the last few days appears to be clearing out. I will have to check the northern skies this evening.

The culprit is sunspot group AR1429, an enormous magnetic disturbance on the face of the Sun. An enormous amount of energy stored in the twisted magnetic fields of AR1429 was released when the fields ruptured. The result was a powerful solar flare. This event was recorded by several spacecraft at a number of wavelengths. The resulting imagery and movies are worth checking out.

For updated info on the event you can check in with dedicated solar monitoring websites like SpaceWeather or the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center