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Overnight aurora sets sky on fire, more possible tonight

Posted October 3, 2013
I’m writing this at 1:30 a.m. running on what’s powering the sky over northern Minnesota right now – auroral energy. Even at this hour, rays are still sprouting in the southern sky and the entire north is milky blue-white with aurora borealis. Frankly, it’s almost impossible to resist going out again for another look.
Overnight aurora sets sky on fire, more possible tonight
At around 10 p.m. last night, the northern sky was alive with colorful auroral patches and arcs. Details: 15mm lens at f/2.8, ISO 800 and 25 second exposure. Credit: Bob King

The arrival of a powerful solar wind in excess of 375 miles per second (600 km/second) from a coronal mass ejection shocked the Earth’s magnetic sheath last night beginning around 9 p.m. CDT. The sun’s magnetic field, embedded in the wind, pointed sharply southward, allowing eager electrons and protons to worm their way past our magnetic defenses and excite the atoms in the upper atmosphere to glow. Voila! Northern lights.

Overnight aurora sets sky on fire, more possible tonight
A classic quiet start to Tuesday night’s northern lights – a low green arc below the Big Dipper topped by a very faint red border. Credit: Bob King

Sure, it started innocently enough. A little glow low in the northern sky. But within half an hour the aurora had intensified into a dense bar of light so and green and bright it cast shadows. This bar or swath grew and grew like some atomic amoeba until it swelled beyond the zenith into the southern sky. Meanwhile, an isolated patch of aurora glowed like an green ember beneath the Pleiades in the northeastern sky. The camera captured its eerie appearance as well as spectacular curtains of red aurora dancing above the dipper-shaped cluster.

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