Northern Lights
January 24, 2012 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Today's Astronomy Picture Of The Day (previously, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) is utterly astonishing.

There's more from photographer Bjørn Jørgensen here, including a specific Northern Lights collection.

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth's atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun's atmosphere. The BBC is reporting that we are in the midst of the largest solar storm since 2005 (more on that here). Unusually, the Aurora Borealis has even been visible in the last day or so across Scotland and parts of Northern England (BBC video).

Meanwhile, woah.
posted by motty (30 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
It's a sky placenta phantom video game cover phoenix that defies any and all adjectives.

(I could use me some Norway.)
posted by Turkey Glue at 7:12 AM on January 24, 2012

posted by zsazsa at 7:22 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

OK, did anyone else think of this?
posted by zarq at 7:26 AM on January 24, 2012

Stunning. One of these days I'll make it far enough north to see the aurora in person.
posted by spitefulcrow at 7:30 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

On that subject, anyone know where a person should go for the best chance to see these Northern Lights? I know there are many scammy sounding trip packages out there.
posted by crookedneighbor at 7:34 AM on January 24, 2012

@ zarq:

I'm at work so youtube is a no no... but if that was a clip of Tommy Lee Jones and/or Will Smith putting on a pair of Ray Bans then yes. Yes I did.
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:38 AM on January 24, 2012

Do they really look like that or just in the photos?
posted by hat_eater at 7:40 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Crookedneighbor, the linked in the post has a small graphic on the lower left of the page that shows the "current auroral oval" - a frequently-updated map showing where auroral activity is most likely. I went to an aurora photographer's talk/slideshow once, and he frequently travelled to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories to take aurora shots. (This makes sense because the magnetic pole is tilted towards Canada and away from Northern Europe, as you can see on the auroral oval map.) If you go, bring a warm coat ;^)

And hat_eater, I learned about that at the same talk. Since the lights move in the sky, the photos with clearly defined structures are usually pretty short exposures and closer to what you would see if you were standing there. The ones with blurry edges may be from dimmer lights shot at longer exposures, or they may be short shots of blurry displays.
posted by richyoung at 7:44 AM on January 24, 2012

Sometime back in the 90s, my wife and I went camping at Lost Maples State Natural Area, west of San Antonio, Texas. After dark, we were sitting around our camp fire with our Coleman lantern burning when the older couple from the next camp space invited us out of our circle of light to look up with them. We saw the aurora that night! Nothing like this, of course, but this was freakin' Texas! Amazing.
posted by tippiedog at 7:44 AM on January 24, 2012

anyone know where a person should go for the best chance to see these Northern Lights

You could fly into Edmonton, rent a car and drive for 2 days straight north to Yellowknife, but oh god no don't get the Chevy Cavalier, and make sure you spring for windshield insurance.
posted by CynicalKnight at 7:47 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Clear up, Minnesota sky. I've seen the aurora once in my life and want to see it again. I was fourteen and at summer camp in northern MN. I snuck out of my cabin and went down to the lakeside to smoke a cigarette. I saw the aurora and had no clue what I was looking at. It was amazing.

This website may help you all to see what your chances are of seeing an aurora (in the northern hemisphere).
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:51 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

hat_eater: Do they really look like that or just in the photos?

Two nights ago there were some extraordinary aurora borealis. I went outside Reykjavík to see them. They didn't look like this exactly, in that they're not this bright, however, they were also shifting and flitting across the length of the sky. It's like seeing the Universe dance.
posted by Kattullus at 7:53 AM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

I did my national service in the Norwegian Army in the north of Norway, and we saw the aurora every now and then. But I still remember the most spectacular one; we were out on maneuvers, and sometime during the night the whole sky filled up, from horizon to horizon, with an intense blue/green aurora. The height of it lasted about ten minutes. And for those ten minutes our pretend war ground to a halt, as everyone stood perfectly still in the cold, mouths agape, gazing skywards.
posted by Harald74 at 7:56 AM on January 24, 2012 [9 favorites]

Is that Cittagazze I see in the distance...?
posted by the sobsister at 7:58 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do they really look like that or just in the photos? anyone know where a person should go for the best chance to see these Northern Lights?

They can really look like that - I've seen some amazingly bright ones as far south as Colorado.

What you really need to see them are : solar activity and darkness. A good show will be visible over most of the US, but will be faint the farther south you go. Get out of the city.

One of my best memories was at summer camp near Ely, MN when I was 16. Jenna and I snuck away from the dance to go make out, and there on that bench near the lake the light show was actually better than the face sucking.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:05 AM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's obviously King Ghidorah the space monster.
YouTube link
go to 0:30
posted by Nyrath at 8:17 AM on January 24, 2012

We've been seeing them in Edinburgh, which is pretty unusual. Planning on nipping out to my Dad's in the nearby (and darker) countryside to see if I can see them myself.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:22 AM on January 24, 2012

Although as I saw on Twitter earlier - sure, it starts with the pretty lights, but before you know it - TRIFFIDS.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:25 AM on January 24, 2012

I love apod. I forget to look for months at a time -- this was a good day to look, as I needed some new desktops for the new work computer, & that's my favorite source. Public-domain Hubble shots ftw!
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:45 AM on January 24, 2012

sky placenta phantom video game

New band name.
posted by Fizz at 9:00 AM on January 24, 2012

All right, I intended to visit Iceland and/or Norway anyway. Now the question is, spring or autumn? For general sightseeing and aurora watching I'll need both day and night...
posted by hat_eater at 9:04 AM on January 24, 2012

I would think that's up to the sun. Presumably, the best time to see auroras is during periods of heavy solar activity like now, and that doesn't have anything to do with Earthly seasons.

I've seen the Aurora Borealis outside on cold nights and even once from the kitchen window. The most amazing thing is the constant motion, like Kattullus described. It's easy to forget that there's miles of air over our heads, but seeing giant lights dance around the horizon (And sometimes overhead!) is an impossible to miss reminder that we live in an enormous world covered by an even more gigantic sky, and outside that is this even bigger realm of space where mysterious things like auroras live. It can make one feel awfully small, and also grateful to live in a world where such beautiful things are possible.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:43 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was reading too fast and I thought at first the fpp referenced "anatomy", not "astronomy". Needless to say, I was expecting something MUCH different, in the neighborhood of vivisection. Or guts in general.
posted by PuppyCat at 10:01 AM on January 24, 2012

Had a trip to go and see the Northern lights in Norway at the beginning of last year - went with a cruise ship run by Hurtigruten. Small ship by cruise standards (about 600 people maybe?) but was pleasant - the ship was more a mail ship that carries passengers rather than a floating monstrosity. The plan was to go as far as the Russian border where there was a decent chance of a viewing, but things went wrong and we didn't get close. Saw the aurora one night, but it was a barely visible green tinge to the sky. The scenery in that part of the world is breathtaking. Would recommend it to others / would do it again.
posted by YAMWAK at 10:17 AM on January 24, 2012

Apparently we are entering the year of the *green* dragon.
posted by forforf at 10:28 AM on January 24, 2012

Aaaaaand of course I just got back from a trip to Iceland last week, where the night sky was un-lighted the entire time. FUCK YOU INCREDIBLE, BREATHTAKING, NATURAL WONDERS WHO DO YOU EVEN THINK YOU ARE
posted by superfluousm at 1:10 PM on January 24, 2012

It is a dream of mine to see aurora. It's truly something I want to see before I die.
posted by smoke at 4:55 PM on January 24, 2012

posted by artof.mulata at 11:01 PM on January 24, 2012

I nearly stuck my car in a ditch up the hill road the other night trying to get away from the town lights chasing that bird (not that it actually looked like that this far South, just a glow in the N). I've seen some pretty spectacular displays in the past up round Loch Tay [where the sodium glow isn't brighter], photos never do them justice. A good test to see if a glow is an aurora (and whether it's worth heading out into the night) is to use a digital camera and take a 10ish sec exposure of it (handheld is fine as it's just to test if it's actually there).

Some other links it's handy to have A monitoring service based out of Aberdeen that's pretty good for finding when it's visible in the UK

The Canopus Auroral Oval from Canada

Planetary K index - and what that is.

crowd sourced solar forcasting

Solar wind data from a satellite that can provide a bit of an early warning.

Solaris Alpha is quite a handy (albeit non-free) android app that can ping you when there are solar flares and when the aurora may be visible where you are. [there are also magnetometer apps, but not had the conditions to test whether they can be used for aurora detection yet, previous reading suggests not, but...]

Or, if you want to go the lo-fi route, you can make your own pop bottle magentometer (there's also variants you can make involving using long pieces of wire, or sticking nails in trees, but not finding the link right now.
posted by titus-g at 2:54 AM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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