He just sent me two more he took last night. He went to Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The aurorae were active last night as the Sun’s recent hissy fit sparked a geomagnetic storm, but by the time Dave go his equipment set up, the Moon was up and the aurorae fading. But never one to waste an opportunity, he took this incredibly dramatic and moving picture:
Stunning. [Click to enannulenate.] Ice crystals suspended in the air refract (bend) light from the Moon, and due to their geometry they create a ring around it. This is common in winter, but it’s rare — at least in the lower 48 — to get one this bright. The bright "star" on the edge of the ring at the top is actually Mars, which is terribly bright and ruddy in the night skies right now. The fainter star inside the halo is Denebola, the tail of Leo.
He also took this more upbeat picture (click to embiggen) which is another fantastic shot of the halo. You can still see Mars, with the bright Regulus (the heart of Leo) to the right, and just to the left of his hand is either Saturn or the bright blue star Spica in Virgo; I’m not sure which since they’re close to each other in the sky right now. Given how far it’s outside the halo, I’m leaning toward it being Saturn with his hand blocking the view of Spica. As an added bonus, you can see a faint arc of light at the top of the halo, called an upper tangent arc; these are more rare. I’ve only seen them a handful of times near the Sun, and never from a Moon halo!
Having spent a lot of time — a lot — out in the cold waiting for that one great shot, that one great view through the telescope, I can sympathize with what Dave went through to get these… and know he agrees that it was absolutely worth it.
Image credits: Dave Brosha, used with permission.
In the past few months the Sun has come roaring back to life, blasting out flares and fierce waves of subatomic particles. These space storms are caused by the magnetic field of the Sun, which stores huge amounts of energy. Near sunspots the magnetic field lines get tangled and can suddenly erupt, hurling that energy into space.
If these tsunamis of particles head our way, they interact with our own planet’s magnetic field. Through complicated processes, the particles are focused down into our atmosphere, where they light it up (literally) like a neon sign. The result: aurorae, also called the northern (or southern) lights.
During a recent storm, photographer Dave Brosha was up in Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, which is at a latitude of 62° north, not all that far south of the Arctic Circle. The aurora display that night was, well, unearthly. He got some amazing shots, including this one:
[Click to stimulatedemissionate.]
Wow. That’s breathtaking. The silhouette belongs to photographer Thomas Koidhis, also a Canadian from the NWT. The stream of green aurora is simple amazing, like a solid path you could walk right into the sky. The Milky Way hangs as a backdrop, the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra punctuating the glowing stream.
He has many more such gorgeous shots in his Flickr set, and I particularly like this one, which shows the ribbons and curved streamers of the lights, caused by the curves in the Earth’s magnetic field itself.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it many more times in the future: people who say science takes away the magic of reality are wrong. The aurorae are among the most beautiful and amazing sights that nature has to offer, and their beauty is enhanced, magnified, by knowing what it is that causes them.
Knowing is half the fun. The other half? Finding out.
Credit: Dave Brosha, used by permission.