Sun lights up day and night (some places) in early November

Photo: Train of Sunspots, November 4, 2105. Photo by James Guilford.
Train of Sunspots, November 4, 2015. Credit: James Guilford

An impressive train of sunspots has been making its way across the face of our nearest star this week. In the photo above: Designated AR2447 (small group to the left), AR2443 (bigger and darker, near center), and AR2445 (far right), the “Active Regions” have the potential of unleashing flares. In fact, AR2445 was the source of a flare that caused this week’s “northern lights” sighted across northern latitude locations around the world. Now rotating over the Sun’s limb, AR2445 won’t be aimed at Earth for a while — if ever again — but AR2443 has potential for high-energy flares.

Photo credit: James Guilford. Canon EOS 7D II: ISO 400, f/11, 1/1250 sec., 400mm lens with Astrozap film solar filter, heavily cropped, November 4, 2015.

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October begins with aurora’s glowing showing

Photo: Aurora by Christopher Christie
Aurora borealis of October 2, 2013 photographed by Christopher Christie

A coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth’s magnetic field during the early hours of October 2, sparking a geomagnetic storm. In North America, auroras spilled across the Canadian border into more than a dozen northern-tier US states, including Northern Ohio. The CME left the sun on Sept. 30, propelled by an erupting magnetic filament, racing away from the Sun at 2 million MPH.

CAA members David Nuti and Christopher Christie observed the light show from Lake Erie’s southern shoreline and captured some images. Presented here is one we think is pretty spectacular!

Photo Notes: Canon EOS Rebel T3: ISO 800, 12 sec., f/3.5, 18mm, 12:41 AM, October 2, 2013.

Too much of a good thing?

Photo: Aurora by David Nuti
Aurora as Seen in Canada, August 2013 – David Nuti

CAA member David Nuti was on vacation in backwoods Canada recently. He did a little fishing and, at night, took full advantage of clear, truly dark skies to do a little stargazing. He did note, however, that his view of the stars was obscured at times by bright lights in the sky. No, it wasn’t light pollution in the sense with which we are all too familiar. Nuti’s view of the stars was hindered by the sky itself in the form of brilliant auroras or “Northern Lights!” Too much of a good thing, perhaps? He shared a couple of photographs with us of a display that took place around midnight, Aug. 13 – 14, 2013.

Photo: Aurora as Seen in Canada, August 2013 - David Nuti
Aurora as Seen in Canada, August 2013 – David Nuti

Photographic Notes: Nikon D5000, 18mm lens (27mm equiv.), top image – ISO 450, f/5.0, 30 sec.; bottom image – ISO 3200, f/5.0, 40 sec.

Surprise aurora!

Northern Lights the Morning of June 1, 2013. Photo by Christopher Christie.
Northern Lights the Morning of June 1, 2013. Photo by Christopher Christie.

Actually, a pair of surprises gave night owl CAA member Christopher Christie a wonderful opportunity: a shot at the “northern lights.” A wonderful aurora spread across the Canadian border and descended into the United States as far south as Colorado and Nebraska.  The aurora was caused by the unexpected arrival of an interplanetary shock wave on May 31st and that stormy night held the added surprise of clearing skies!

“While it was thunder storming I noticed on one of the web sites I watch that the Bz component of the interplanetary magnetic field tipped sharply south to around a minus 20,” wrote Christie. “So I was keeping an eye on some other sites and the weather, saw the rain was about to let up and since it looked like there would be a good chance of having Aurora if the skies cleared, I decided to give it a try. It was still drizzling when I left but when I got to my spot it had stopped. The skies were still pretty cloudy and I couldn’t really see anything but I took a few pictures anyway, just in case. I noticed this one weird spot that wasn’t moving but kind of getting bigger as the clouds started to break up a little. It was just a green blob, nothing special and no real movement, waves or spikes, but you could see it even with the naked eye. After about an hour the clouds moved back in and it went away so I went home to look through my pics and was happy, wasn’t much but how often do we get Aurora here.” End of round one!

Christie kept monitoring the conditions, however. “So it was about 3 AM and I noticed that the Bz was still way south and it looked like something could happen again and it looked like some clearing was moving in. So of course I had to go back out and I’m glad I did. It was still partly cloudy and the skies never cleared all the way, but it was a great show, all kinds of colors, green, red, purple and white with some waves and spikes. It lasted till almost 5 AM when the sun started to brighten up the horizon and the clouds took back over.”

The image above is one of several Christie made that night and we have enhanced it a bit for display here.

Exposure information: Canon EOS Rebel T3 — ISO 3200, f/3.5, 8 sec., 18mm; June 1, 2013 at 4:08 AM.

Auroras delight night owls

Photo: Auroral display over Lake Erie. Photo by Christopher Christie.
Auroral display over Lake Erie. Photo by Christopher Christie.

A group of CAA members took advantage of beautiful night sky conditions to set up and observe from Medina County Parks’ Letha House Park — site of our Observatory. Among them was Christopher Christie. “I got home about 2:00 AM after a great, but cold night out at Letha House” he wrote. “I was starting to wind down around 3:00 AM when I noticed the Kp index was kicking up as the solar wind increased, it wasn’t much at the time but I kept an eye on it.”

He kept tabs on the situation. “About 3:30 the KP was up at 6, so I went to my front porch and didn’t see anything, but checked some of the other sites I use to check on the aurora and one showed a possibility of some moving in. So I went to the lake shore just inside Rocky River, and, well after about an hour and 175 images or so I was very happy.” We’re pretty pleased to see his results.

Auroral display over Lake Erie. White light at left-horizon is a passing boat. Photo by Christopher Christie.

It turns out Christie had tapped into the beginning of a big geomagnetic storm. By Saturday afternoon SpaceWeather.com was reporting that the storm continued to light the skies over nighttime areas of the globe and was expected to be active through Saturday night. Of course Saturday night brought clouds and rain to the Greater Cleveland Area. Still, it was a noteworthy event.

SpaceWeather.com explained, “The ongoing storm was triggered by a knot of south-pointing magnetism from the sun. During the early hours of Oct. 13, the knot bumped into Earth’s magnetic field, opening a crack in our planet’s magnetosphere. Solar wind poured in to fuel the auroras.”

Big sunspot takes aim at Earth

Photo: The Sun with sunspots July 12, 2012. Photo by James Guilford.
Just below center-left, is AR1520, as seen from Northeastern Ohio on July 12 at 6:18 PM EDT.

Dominating the face of our Sun, this week, has been an enormous group of sunspots including those designated AR1520. The active Sun has been very interesting to watch, of late, as the dark spots rotated over the star’s limb and towards the center of its disk, facing Earth. Hydrogen-alpha observers have also been rewarded with good numbers of prominences spouting into the blackness of space. Forecasters stated AR1520 had great potential for flare activity and on Thursday, July 12, the forecast was fulfilled — just as the sunspot was aimed directly at Earth.

According to SpaceWeather.com, “Big sunspot AR1520 unleashed an X1.4-class solar flare on July 12th at 1653 UT. Because this sunspot is directly facing Earth, everything about the blast was geoeffective. For one thing, it hurled a coronal mass ejection (CME) directly toward our planet. According to a forecast track prepared by analysts at the Goddard Space Weather Lab, the CME will hit Earth on July 14th around 10:20 UT (+/- 7 hours) and could spark strong geomagnetic storms. Sky watchers should be alert for auroras this weekend.”

NASA’s orbital solar observatories, of course, captured images of the flare as it erupted. Very rarely is any individual human observer watching when the detonation occurs but one can get lucky. CAA Vice-President Mike Williams was very lucky. “I was looking at the spot {with my personal solar telescope} when it popped,” he said. “Wow what a sight!”

As so often seems the case, weather forecasts for the weekend include plenty of clouds to interfere with the view. Still, aurora fans should stay alert to active displays and the potential for clear skies; it could be a good show!

UPDATE: The CME impacted the Earth’s magnetic field at ~ 1800 UT or 2:00 PM EDT, July 14.

Photo above: The Sun with prominent AR1520 accompanied by smaller sunspots. Canon EOS 50D: ISO 400, f/11, 1/1000 sec., 400mm telephoto lens with AstroZap white light filter, 6:18 PM, July 12, 2012 — “just before the clouds rolled in,” according to photographer James Guilford.

Pillars of the Sun

Photo: Brilliant sky with a sun pillar rising over trees. Photo by James Guilford.
A sun pillar rises into a firey December morning sky.

In the mornings and evenings of the cold seasons we are occasionally favored with glorious sunrises and sunsets. A few of those beautiful moments boast something beyond colored clouds and sky; they host sun pillars! Unknown Object

Sun pillars are the result of low-angle sunlight reflected from flat plate-shaped ice crystals suspended high in the air. Pillars can extend from approximately where the Sun sits, near the horizon, to points straight up and high above.

Monday morning, December 13, presented one of those fleeting moments as I drove to the office. I hurriedly pulled into a parking lot, extracted my camera from its case, and shot a few photos of the beautiful sky. A few minutes later, with the Sun slightly higher and the clouds slightly heavier, the fiery colors had faded and the sun pillar was gone.

Pillars, such as I saw, can also occur at night in the colder months. Lights from streetlamps, parking lots, buildings, and so forth can be reflected by atmospheric ice and produce delicately beautiful light pillars that are often mistaken for auroras.

So as you start or end your day, take the occasional glance at the sky. Perhaps you, too, will see the pillars of the Sun!