On this past Sunday night the aurora borealis paid the U.S. a visit. Some lucky people who were up late, outdoors and looking north saw red or green glowing skies.
Unfortunately, not Jackson.
One loyal correspondent here got up every two hours and saw stars, the Milky Way and the rising of a bright, coppery half-moon. But alas, no northern lights.
According to news sources, Iceland had a spectacular show. Viewers in New Hampshire and Michigan just saw the glow. On this past Saturday night, folks in the Seattle area were treated to a light show, mostly green wavering pillars. You can find a video of this online, but we missed out. Oh well, better luck next time, Wyoming.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a moderate geomagnetic storm watch for Sunday and Monday, thanks to energy from a recent solar flare.
“That energy disrupts the Earth’s magnetosphere,” Amy Oliver, a NASA solar system ambassador to Utah, said in a press release. “The disruption then sends the electrons in the atmosphere into overdrive, causing them to emit photons that we see as light — the aurora borealis or northern lights.
“A G2 storm is strong enough to allow people as far south as northern Wyoming and Idaho to see the northern lights, although the data are still fluctuating as the ejected energy gets closer to Earth,” she said.
These geomagnetic storms are created thanks to a coronal mass ejection, also known as a CME, by our sun. The storms don’t result in any rain or lightning, but simply produce a high-latitude light show that often looks like flowing waves of neon greens, blues, reds and purples in the sky.
The solar particles bombarding our planet this past weekend were actually from the second of two large flares observed last week. The first CME left the sun July 10 and reached Earth on Thursday. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the second flare July 12.
Scientists say it has been rare during the current solar cycle for our planet to get hit with two major flares like that at almost the same time.
And most importantly — no, the radiation from a solar flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to cause any damage. So you are safe from that threat.
In September a group of Jackson Hole geologists will be touring Iceland. Maybe they will be lucky enough to see a good northern lights show then, as the timing of the trip is cleverly planned for no moon.
Field Notes: Jeff Foote alerts us to a possible decline in the number of rufous hummingbirds showing up in the region this season. And it’s mostly males appearing at the nectar feeders. Nature mappers might want to count in hopes of verifying this observation.
Don’t forget to keep your hummingbird nectar fresh. If the feeder is hanging in the sun it can sour quickly, and the little fellers will take one beak-dip and leave for tastier options.