One Year Anniversary of St. Paddy’s Day Aurora 2016

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Northern Lights Now – St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, falls on a Thursday this year providing the perfect Throwback Thursday to last year, when the strongest Aurora storm of the current solar cycle arrived at Earth. Aurora hunters, including Dan Russell and this author, the Burlington VT based founders of NLN, were treated to hours on end of wondrous dancing lights. Dan and I captured these purple pillars with a camera on a tripod setup on the frozen ice of Lake Champlain:

Purple Aurora Pillars
Aurora glow and purple pillars visible in NLN’s photograph from St. Patrick’s Day Aurora Storm 2015

The storm that produced this aurora was only predicted to be 12-18 hours of G1 storming prompted by a filament eruption followed by a long duration C9 solar flare. Both events launched CMEs towards Earth, and as they arrived it became clear they were oriented just right for a long duration and very strong show. The plasma cloud from the filament and the CME from the flare arrived almost in unison. This sent the Bz strongly south by as much as 23nT. Bz remained south for over 24 hours, and the solar wind speeds increased to over 600km/s. By the time the storm subsided, there were two full days of G1+ activity including periods of G4:

Two full days of G1 storming reflected in the KP 3-hour chart from Boulder
Two full days of G1 storming reflected in the KP 3-hour chart from Boulder

This was not an easy storm to photograph in Vermont. The forecast for the evening did not look promising from the start. It was supposed to be cloudy all day and through the night on March 17 and it was cold! It was 24 degrees, and the wind was howling at 20 with gusts to 35mph (no exaggeration!) The northern lights activity was predicted to die down as the sun set over Lake Champlain, so at best there might only be a short window. As the afternoon waned, two factors came together nicely – first the storm was clearly stronger than expected, second there were hints in the very short term forecast that there could be a window where the clouds broke apart between sunset and about 9:30.

Cloudcover for St Paddy's day storm 2015 shows hints of clear skies for  Lake Champlain
Cloudcover for St Paddy’s day storm 2015 shows hints of clear skies for Lake Champlain

The batteries were charged, so we set up the cameras. This was a particularly cold March in Northern New England after a particularly cold winter. Lake Champlain and Mallott’s bay still had a thick layer of ice. We set the camera up pointed North and watched as a break in the clouds moved from West to East. When the sky cleared aurora were visible to the naked eye and we captured the image at the top of this post. There was a 45 minute window before the clouds rolled back in. Every Aurora hunter knows that feeling when the night is over because the clouds roll in. Dan and I went inside to warm up and to start processing images. While we sat inside, a squall came through dumping over an inch of snow.

At midnight, just as it was time to turn in, we looked out the window and it was crystal clear and there was red aurora in the sky to the North visible to the naked eye. We set the cameras up and let the intervalometer snap 5 second exposures on our Fujifilm X-T1 and Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 cameras. Did I mention it was cold? Now that it had snowed, the north wind was creating a “ground blizzard” as it picked up the freshly fallen snow and blew it across the lake at 20 mph. Here’s what Dan and I looked like, huddled behind a raised block of ice acting as a wind barrier, as we waited for the second round of photos at 1:00am.

Charles and Dan Shelter from the wind while time lapse camera snaps photos
Charles and Dan Shelter from the wind while time lapse camera snaps photos

It was worth it! At the end we had this time lapse that shows both the 8:30-9:30pm and 12:30-1:30am periods where the sky was clear. You can see the ice on the lake, and watch the clouds roll in during the first section, then in the second see one of the most amazing displays of Red, Green and Purple we’ve been lucky enough to experience.

Happy Hunting!

Twitter Time-Lapse from March 2016 Northern Lights

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Northern Lights Now – Aurora hunters from Europe to Central North America were treated to aurora as the result of a G3 Geomagnetic storm On March 6-7 2016. Images of aurora filled Twitter, as photographers who stay up late snapping pictures of the night sky shared their success stories. In addition to the photos, several tweeters shared their time lapse photography. NLN has compiled some of the best time lapse in this post. Enjoy!

Astronaut Tim Peake kicked off the evening’s Aurora time-lapse with this “Aurora photobomb” from the International Space Station:

Mac The Hat posted this tweet from the Beauly Firth near North Kessock in the highland of Scotland. In case you were wondering, a firth is a estuary or inlet from the sea:

In N. Ireland, Daragh McDonough (@DaraghDonegal) posted a realtime northern lights capture from a Canon6D from Donegal on the Northwest Coast:

In Maine, the aurora lasted long enough to put on a nice show at Sugarloaf mountain:

Sam Cornwell (@Samcornwell) Shared this wonderful Youtube video he created from images taken in Hawick on the Scottish Borders of the March 2016 storm:

For Hargi (@hargi_) the clouds added texture to the northern lights making a very interesting and lovely time lapse.

Thank you to all he intrepid aurora hunters who brave the cold and dark to share these images with the rest of the world!

Happy Hunting

G2 Storm Conditions Possible on March 11

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Norther Lights Now – The official forecast from the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) is calling for a couple periods of G1 and G2 aurora late on March 11, 2013:

Brief Period of G2 storming predicted for the  second half of March 11
Brief Period of G2 storming predicted for the second half of March 11

This is due to a small solar storm with a period of dimming combined with high speed solar wind eminating from a coronal hole. This is something of a suprise storm. The CME is narrow and the coronal hole is small so this is a low confidence forecast. As such, SWPC has not even issued a geomagnetic storm watch for today.

Coronal hole in the southern hemisphere, center disk will make for high speed solar wind on 3/11
Coronal hole in the southern hemisphere, center disk will make for high speed solar wind on 3/11

Further, it’s possible that the expected solar storm has already passed Earth. There was a brief period of G1 storming mid-day on March 11. This may have been the expected activity. Space Weather forecasters are still analyzing this storm.

There was a period of G1 storming in the first half of March 11
There was a period of G1 storming in the first half of March 11

Happy Hunting