Aurora Dances Down

By , March 3, 2011

Early Tuesday morning, I put on my warmest parka and went down to the veranda to see the aurora borealis, the northern lights. Recent sunspot activity has been violent enough to disrupt cell phone and satellite Internet service on the homestead. Sunspots mean aurora!

We’ve been told that activity would increase recently, but have not seen much. In fact, the last year has been an extremely quiet one for northern lights. We’ve seen some now and then, mostly very vague, static displays. We hardly remember to check the University of Alaska Fairbanks Aurora Forecast Page anymore, but I did log on in time to know that last night activity would be “moderate” on their scale, which is to say a lot more active than it’s been in a while.

We’d seen the aurora coming around 9:00 pm, just before bedtime. A thick, bright band of green light outlined the Coast Range across Lynn Canal. I planned to get up around 2:00 am, usually the time when activity, if present, will be most active. But, I slept in.

When I went out, the display was very faint, but moved faster than I’ve seen aurora move in a long time. It actually flickered! It reminded me of time lapse video of the aurora. I tried to take photos, but our cameras just aren’t up to capturing northern lights. No doubt one of our local pros, like Ron Horn or Matt Davis, will have gotten some good ones for the newspaper, as they often do.

I didn’t stay long to watch the display. We’re continuing to be bludgeoned by high winds and cold temperatures, so a night of sky watching can be hazardous to our health. I found I could sit on the couch and watch through the window, so I did that for a while before returning to bed.

I swiped the title of this piece from the refrain of John McCutcheon’s beautiful song Aurora, on his CD, Four Seasons: Wintersongs.

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