It was midnight, but I should have been outside or at least made one last check on the sky last night. Instead, I went to bed. Big mistake! Had I cracked open the door and looked out I would have noticed a familiar, pale green glow low in the northern sky. Others smarter than I stayed up late past moonset and took pictures of a pretty auroral display, the first in some time. One of those people was photographer Clint Austin, a former colleague who works at the Duluth News Tribune. He drove to an icy lake north of Duluth and captured these beautiful scenes.
Geomagnetic storms occur when solar particles tangle with and disturb Earth's magnetic field. A very minor storm traced to a coronal hole in the sun's atmosphere had been forecast for last night. Judging from Clint's photos, it blossomed into something much nicer. In a coronal hole, electrons and protons (pieces of hydrogen atoms, basically) stream away from the sun at high speed. When aimed at the Earth there's always the possibility of the aurora.
The same stream will continue to tease with Earth's magnetic domain Sunday night (Nov. 22) and likely spark another minor storm according to the latest space weather forecast. The best time to watch will be from nightfall until 1 a.m. CST Monday morning, Nov. 23. The best places will be the northern regions of the northern ties of states as well as Canada.
I'm hoping the moon won't be too bright. It's half-lit — not too bad — and sets around midnight. Find a location with a good view to the north and keep an eye out for an arc-shaped glow just above the northern horizon. I like to check every half-hour or so until I go to bed. Except maybe I won't go to bed. Wink.
If you have a digital SLR camera you can take time exposures of the low northern sky to confirm if the aurora's active. If you see green on the back screen, it is!
"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer for the Duluth News Tribune. Read more of his work at duluthnewstribune.com/astrobob.