Northern lights dazzle Minnesota Tuesday night: Encore tonight?

Forecasting weather here on earth is tough. Forecasting space weather is even tougher, but last night’s forecasts of auroras hit the jackpot in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

While haze, humidity and clouds made for iffy viewing in parts of Minnesota last night, conditions were perfect along the North Shore. Reports indicate a vivid northern lights show last night in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Check out the photos Travis Novitsky captured last night between 11pm and midnight near Grand Portage overlooking Lake Superior. You can see the green rays of the aurora dancing in the night sky, as the moon rises over the big lake.

(click imgaes to enlarge)

1 a aurora lk superior 1.jpg

1 a aurora lk superior 2.jpg

1 a aurora lk superior 3.jpg

Here’s a link to Travis’ excellent aurora gallery.

Anatomy of an aurora:

Northern lights are produced when bursts of solar energy rush through space and interact with the earth’s magnetosphere.

1 a solar wind.png

Here’s the scoop on aurora details from Wikipedia:

Auroras are the result of the emissions of photons in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, above 80 km (50 miles), from ionized nitrogen atoms regaining an electron, and oxygen and nitrogen atoms returning from an excited state to ground state. They are ionized or excited by the collision of solar wind particles being funneled down and accelerated along the Earth’s magnetic field lines; excitation energy is lost by the emission of a photon of light, or by collision with another atom or molecule:

oxygen emissions

Green or brownish-red, depending on the amount of energy absorbed.

nitrogen emissions

Blue or red. Blue if the atom regains an electron after it has been ionized. Red if returning to ground state from an excited state.

1 a aurbo ISS.jpg

Northern lights captured by the ISS on May 24, 2010.

Better show tonight?

Another burst of solar energy is headed earthward tonight.

Here’s the latest update from spaceweather.com.

GEOMAGNETIC STORM–MORE TO COME? The solar storm of August 1st sent two CMEs toward Earth. The first one arrived yesterday, August 3rd, sparking mild but beautiful Northern Lights over Europe and North America. The second CME is still en route. NOAA forecasters estimate a 35% chance of major geomagnetic storms when the cloud arrives on August 4th or 5th. High-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras.

Clear skies less haze and lower humidity may make for an even better show tonight in the Upper Midwest. The best place to view the aurora is away from city lights, in a dark sky or overlooking a lake. Look low toward the northern horizon anytime tonight and you could see a rare treat in the night sky. Best viewing could be anytime, but most likely between 11pm and 3am.

PH

  • Don Dewey

    We didn’t see Northern Lights but we did see Eastern Lights. About 1115p Tuesday night we watched a ring of light floating fairly high in the eastern sky. It lasted for more than a half-hour (that’s when we went to bed). Have you heard other reports? Any idea what we were looking at?

  • Paul Huttner

    Don:

    You may have seen northern lights. They can also be visible in the NE & NW depending on your perspective.

    Cool!

    PH

  • Randall M

    Anyone see them in the Metro last night? The one time I did check, I saw nothing.

    I’ll be on the lookout for them tonight. Any prediction on the probability of seeing them in the Cities?

  • Paul Huttner

    Hi Randall:

    I think the clouds will dissipate after about 10pm tonight. There may be a few lingering clouds, but I think drier air pushing in will make for better potential viewing tonight.

    Get to as dark a spot to the north as you can…like the south end of a park or lake etc.

    Good luck!

    PH

  • Karl

    These are great images. Were they photographed during the August 2010 event or are they from past sightings of the Aurora Borealis?

  • Kat

    Don:

    My husband and I saw the same phenomenon you described on Tuesday night as well. No idea what it was but very interesting.

  • A. McAlpine

    Even tho I was born in Illinois we moved to Texas when I was small so I never saw the northern lights from up north. I grew up in Dallas but moved to east Texas and in the late 80’s my husband and I were running an airport. I stepped outside one night and the sky was filled with the northern lights…I ran inside and brought my husband out to see this and I wound up staying outside for hours watching this light show. I have never heard of these lights showing up in Texas. I believe there are times when nature does it’s “thing” whether we see it or not. As a licensed pilot I have seen things i should not have seen. Thank you for showing pictures of these great lights!!