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.

Fireball thrills observers

Published on Sep 28, 2013
Last night, a meteor exploded in the skies above the US midwest. Witnesses report shadows cast upon the ground, unusual sounds, and a swirling contrail marking the aftermath of the blast. A NASA all-sky camera in Hiram, Ohio, recorded the fireball at 11:33 pm EDT: 

”This was a very bright event,” reported Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “Flares saturated our meteor cameras, and made determination of the end point (the terminus of the fireball’s flight through the atmosphere) virtually impossible. Judging from the brightness, we are dealing with a meter-class object.”

Data from multiple cameras shows that the meteoroid hit Earth’s atmosphere traveling 51 km/s (114,000 mph) and passed almost directly over Columbus, Ohio. Cooke has prepared a preliminary map of the ground track. According to the American Meteor Society, the fireball was visible from at least 14 US states. The meteor is estimated to have exploded 41 miles directly above Columbus, Ohio.

Members of the CAA, at the club’s Letha House Park observing site near Spencer, Ohio, also saw the event. Observatory Director Jay Reynolds recounted the sight: “[Others] were observing in the parking lot, I was in the observatory reviewing photos I had taken when the observatory grew from darkness to BRIGHT in half a second! [It was] initially white, then green, then FLASH as if someone took a photo. As we looked, Capricorn now had a large glowing scar running 15-20 degrees horizontally across, running through it. The smoke trail was so bright, it too, may have been able to cast a shadow in the first second after it’s flashy birth, slowly fading, taking nearly a minute to disappear.”

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.

Oh, Canada! Yes, we can see you from here!

Photo: Lights of Canada. Photo by Reynolds & Dills.
Lights of Canada, seen across Lake Erie from Ohio.

by Jay Reynolds

For years, Suzie Dills has told me about seeing lights across the lake when she walks her dog at night. I always joked that she was making it up (knowing full well that she wasn’t). It wasn’t long before we looked on the map and determined that they were lights from Canada (or Narnia).

Well, I’ve always told her to call me when they are happening, Sunday night (May 5) was the night.

When I arrived at Huntington Beach, I knew exactly where to look, but didn’t really see much. (I know what you may be thinking.) I saw a few lights but not the lights, cars, houses, and small children that she’d planted in my anticipation.

But when I raised my binoculars… “Ole Eagle-Eyes Suzie” was correct!

The horizon was littered with many, many red lights and the occasional building light as well. This easily spanned 30 degrees along the horizon. You could clearly make out the thermal boundary layer above the lights. Video would show the scintillation of the lights.

It was terrific to see this across the lake on such a grand scale!

Those of us old enough to remember antenna TV, Sunday night would have been great fun to pick up signals from Toledo, Detroit, and maybe even Erie, Penn. (only to learn they are watching the same “Lost in Space” I was watching).

Higher up, through the haze, you could see Procyon, Pollux, and Castor taking their final bow of the spring; farewell winter friends, we’ll see you soon enough.

The warmer air temperatures had led us to this optical refraction across Lake Erie the previous two nights. This happens in the spring and autumn when the lake water temperature is radically different than the air temperature! Cold lake temps (43 degrees) and warm air temps (65 degrees) set up a trap/ducting which bends/refracts the light over the horizon. The effect is somewhat similar to a hot summer day when blacktop has that mirror/mirage look to it. The pavement is very hot, the air is much cooler.

The measured distance from Bay Village to Canada is approximately 50 miles. Because of the curvature of the Earth, we are usually limited to approximately 16-20 miles line-of-sight.

Bottom line, science is fun, nature can fool us into thinking “a bridge to Canada would be half the cost we thought,” and Suzie has binocular eyes after all!

Jay Reynolds is the CAA’s Observatory Director, astronomy instructor at CSU, and well-known as a NASA Solar System Ambassador.

Photo: Stars through thin clouds. Photo by Reynolds & Dills.
Stars above, Canada’s lights below.

Photos: Jay Reynolds & Suzie Dills: Canon 400 (Xti) Single shot, 10 sec, ISO 1600, Processing MaxIm D/L