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:
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:
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.
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.
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.