I blogged about the aurora borealis (northern lights) last winter, but I have a follow up! Because this year, they’ve stepped it up a few notches.
Here’s the scientific recap of what the auroras are: the sun sends electrons & protons zooming into space creating “solar wind.” The solar wind’s magnetic field is lined up perfectly to reach the Earth. So some of these electrically charged particles from the sun smash into the Earth’s atmosphere and combine with gases, like oxygen and nitrogen. These collisions create the auroras we see, which are best described as colorful bands/smudges/arcs dancing in the sky like optical illusions.
Solar activity never stops, but we experienced a “solar minimum” in 2019-20, meaning the sun was somewhat quiet.
But, the sun is waking up! Every 11 years, there’s a peak, and we are entering a more active phase, with a solar maximum around 2025. Some are saying this could be the biggest solar cycle in generations! And based on the glow of colored lights we’ve seen this winter versus last winter, I would say we are in for more and more spectacular aurora displays.
March is generally known as the most geomagnetically active month, and most alive around the equinox (Spring/Vernal on Saturday March 20). This is thanks to the geometry of Earth at equinox, as the Earth is perpendicular to the sun and has equal day and night. Nerd alert! G2-class solar storm erupted on our sun on March 1. To be honest, I don’t actually know what that means, but it sounded important. Bottom line: March has been fantastico.
Last year, when the predictions for auroras were strong, we would wake several times in the night to check. The difference we’ve noticed this year is that we’ve been seeing them earlier in the evenings (9-11pm). And, they typically appear strongest looking north, but we’ve seen them all over the sky. Also, we have a more efficient system of texting with friends to inform each other. Much like Denali viewings, if auroras are not out one minute, maybe they’ll be out the next. They can put on a show for hours, or just a few minutes.
We’ve enjoyed at least SIX excellent sightings in the last 2 weeks alone, with faint sightings the other days (in case you want specifics: Tues., 2/23, Sun., 2/28, Tues., 3/2, Thurs., 3/11, Fri., 3/12, Sat., 3/13, Mon., 3/15, Fri., 3/19, Sat., 3/20, Sun 3/21). And lucky for you, we have sick photographic proof. I’ve admitted before that I am having trouble mastering my fancy camera settings for manual focus to infinity. But Justin recently got a GoPro and the autofocus works!
Monday, March 15 – These are “light pillars,” which is essentially when ice crystals in the air reflect off other lights, and we notice them when our temps make big changes. This night, they were disappearing and reappearing in another spot. You would think an alien spaceship was beaming light down!!
Mainly they’ve been the greens, but there was 1-2 days we saw the curtains tinged with delicate purple on top. Any which way, they are mind-blowing.