Sunday, May 15, 2016

Tonight's Sky for May 15: Northern Lights of Historic Proportions (2005)

It was on this date in 2005 that a historic display of the Northern Lights took place. The best part: thanks to technology, we have day by day accounts of the event.

Everything started a few days before the big light show. At the time, we were on the downward trend for extremely strong sunspot cycle 23, which stands in stark contrast to current cycle 24, one of the weakest ever seen in recorded history. It was on May 13 that sunspot 759 erupted a M8 class solar flare accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME) that was hurled into space directly towards Earth. Interestingly enough, while there was an increased chance for geomagnetic activity, no one expected anything unusual because, after all, the flare was only a M8.

Boy, how everyone was wrong!

Then, on the night of Saturday and into Sunday (the 15th) morning, the skies over the United States erupted with brilliant displays of the Lights as far South as Florida and Arizona. Depending on location and atmospheric composition, the colors included reds, oranges, greens, blues, and even purples. It was on this night that yours truly saw his only display of Aurora. In my neck of the woods in Northeast Ohio, the Lights were a mix of violet and blue overhead, gradually blending into green curtains as they approached the horizon. I remember vividly being a bit dumbfounded as to what the lights were at first, only realizing that these were the Lights after a moment or so. First seeing them at around 4am, I stayed up until dawn, at which time the brilliant display was out-shown by the Sun.

Hopefully, such a sight will repeat itself soon, we're long overdue in these parts . . .  

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