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View Full Version : Who has seen the aurorae?



BigJim
2003-May-26, 06:48 PM
Who has seen the Northern or Southern Lights? Do they look like they're supposed to? Colt had a thread a while ago where we discussed this, and I thought we could expand on it. Do any of you from Australia ever see the Aurora Australis? How many here get to see the Borealis? And if anyone took any pictures of them, please post 'em.

Someday I will see them (from orbit, if I'm lucky :wink: ).

ocasey3
2003-May-26, 07:04 PM
I've seen them twice, once neat Luddington, MI and once from Sterling Heights, both in the lower UP, believe it or not. The one near Luddington took up most of the Northern sky but were faint and whispy. I had to look twice to realize what I was looking at because I had never seen them before. I thought it was just high clouds until I noticed how it seemed to have a ripple effect. It lasted along time. This was in the middle of August.

The second time I was in Sterling Heights, just North of Detroit and they were redddish. We thought it was smoke from a chimney until I noticed the same ripple effect and the fact that it wasn't floating away. This was around September.

Both were rather rare considering the magnetic lattitude.

I want to go to NWT or Nunavut, Canada, like no ones business, in the Fall or Spring to see the Aurora. I read that Yellowknife is graced with the Northern lights almost every night, barring the summer months. Too much sunlight.

Darnon
2003-May-26, 07:51 PM
I've seen the Aurora Borealis once at Watkins Glen, NY. It was more or less a whitish green (we thought it was the track's lights at first) and occasionally was red. It went for a while, receded some, and picked up again before tapering off.
Funny thing was, one of the guys the night before was saying about how he'd always wanted to see it.

Darnon

Donnie B.
2003-May-26, 07:53 PM
I've seen the Borealis a few times. Ironically, the best show was here in Massachusetts, which is the farthest south I've seen them. That was around 1978, IIRC.

BigJim
2003-May-26, 08:12 PM
Does it look as active, say, as in the movie Frequency (don't start complaining about the science in it, now... :) )?

ocasey3
2003-May-26, 08:15 PM
On http://www.Spaceweather.com there is a gallery of aurora pictures, including one or two that show motion. Check it out, very cool. (Never seen Frequency)

Illucian
2003-May-26, 08:18 PM
I saw them constantly in my hometown, Plentywood MT, which is just shy of the Saskatchewan border. Of course, now I'm much further south in Texas, so there goes that viewing unless it's a spectacular display. The area was very dark, as NE Montana is basicly the middle of nowhere, and the viewing was amazing. I could just walk out onto the back porch and see them plainly at times. Usually appeared as a faint luminescense, sometimes with a tinge of color if it was bright enough; I've seen blues, greens, and reds, though not usually at the same time. They tended to have a curtainish movement, like a curtain rippling. If overhead, it was a "starburst"-like effect. Not as dazzling as in photographs (due to exposure time necessary), but the movement made up for that, as well as the entire otherworldly feeling of viewing them.

I did see them once from a DC-10 on a flight from Minot ND to Minneapolis. Very spiffy--they appeared to be level with me, due to their placement on the horizon.

AstroSmurf
2003-May-26, 08:25 PM
I grew up close to the polar circle (northern Sweden), and I saw aurora quite a few times - it's rather dim, so it needs to be dark around for your eyes to detect it. I don't know how often it occurs; I never kept any observation records. My impression was that it's fairly frequent, but that the conditions may prevent you from seeing it.

On a good night, aurora is among the most impressive phenomena you can watch. All these curtains of green-to-pink light, spread over half the sky, silently moving. The motions are usually very slow, but can include quick ripples. I never found any pattern to them to speak of.

Haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment on it. My basic (kid level) astronomy books had rather simplified images, but tended to exaggerate the opaqueness of the curtains - they're almost transparent.

// The Astrosmurf

ToSeek
2003-May-26, 09:37 PM
I saw an aurora in southern Illinois once, but it was nothing fancy, just a red glow in the sky.

Comixx
2003-May-26, 09:57 PM
I've seen the Aurora from a DC-10 also, when I was flying from LA to Germany on my way to Desert Storm. It was this writhing band of green light that looked nearly alive as it moved around. I dont know why I happened to look out my window, but I've always been glad I did. That same flight, after watching the Aurora for a while, I glanced towards the rear of the plane and watched the contrails being formed too, which was impressive in its own way...

Colt
2003-May-26, 10:03 PM
I have of course. :) The Aurora are not as solid looking as many people think. They are wispy, sort of like mist. Still very cool. The problem with taking pictures of them is that they are so faint as to be invisible compared to some stars and the moon. -Colt

BigJim
2003-May-26, 10:07 PM
So the impression I get is that are something like thin, greenish-red curtains that wave gently back and forth. Is that about right?


I've seen the Aurora from a DC-10 also, when I was flying from LA to Germany on my way to Desert Storm.

Were you in one of the services?

BCstargazerr
2003-May-26, 10:10 PM
good day all :)

the aurora displays varies constantly. it can go from a barely visible hazish veil that you can detect by looking at some stars that seem to twinkle in an odd way to a sky full of lights.i've observed curtains that seem to ondulate rapidly, patches of light ressembling brush strokes on a canvas. the most extraordinary display that i've seen occurred in 1988 i think. i was at a star party during the new moon in august that coincided with the peak of the pleides meteor shower. during that night the few hundred ppl on Mt.Kobau witnessed balls of aurora zooming in the sky from the north. if i had to compare it to something, i would say that it looked like the special effects in the movie "damnation alley" at the point where the earth is about to return to "normal"
that night even amateurs that had been observing the sky for decades were awed by the fireworks created by the solar wind and the fireballs created by cosmic dust.

the location where i saw the brightest displays was just south of the arctic circle in dawson city, yukon but i don't recommend you go there right now as there is no "nightime" until late august.
personally, i check the space weather page at NASA and my favorite site related to auroras is:
http://www.sec.noaa.gov/pmap/
that gives you an idea of where the aurora is that particular day for both the northern and southern hemisphere. don't forget that the aurora'location can vary considerably from 1 hour to the next.
you can also double up by observing satellites, the International Space Station and the furtive Irridium flares. you can get the times of passage for all satellites at:
http://www.heavens-above.com

good aurora and satellittes hunting :)

Hamlet
2003-May-27, 06:26 PM
Greetings! I'm a long time reader, but first time poster. :D

My wife and I took a trip to Iceland last November to view the aurora borealis. It was one of the most awe-inspiring events of our lives and one that is difficult to put into words! The aurorae were varied in shape ranging from a simple arc to a broad shimmering curtain suspended in the sky. Some of the arcs ran from horizon to horizon. The color was predominately green, with some red, pink and purple mixed in.

I had not been prepared for how much motion would be visible. The curtain aurorae looked as if a wind was blowing through them ( well, since their caused by the solar wind, I guess this is partially true). The large arc aurorae would sometimes sprout tentacles at their edges that would unfurl and furl like an octopus arm.

We were with a group of about 30 people and you have never heard so many adults oohing and aahing like little kids! It was a truly wonderful experience and one that I look forward to repeating.

You can see some photographs here:

http://www.csh.rit.edu/~steve/

nebularain
2003-May-27, 07:19 PM
A little over ten years ago, I was out in the woods at night at my college, just south of Harrisburg, PA. I was at a spot where the wide path made a T-junction with another wide path; thus no canopy over this spot. It was also on the top of a hill. I remember looking up and seeing the night sky changing colors! At times it looked more greenish and at times it looked more reddish. IIRC, the colors had a splotchiness to them.

At the time, I had no idea what was going on. But the next day as I shared this with someone, she explained that it was the Aurora Borealis.

WOW! I was seeing an aurora and didn't even know it! :o

Comixx
2003-May-27, 07:22 PM
So the impression I get is that are something like thin, greenish-red curtains that wave gently back and forth. Is that about right?


I've seen the Aurora from a DC-10 also, when I was flying from LA to Germany on my way to Desert Storm.

Were you in one of the services?

Yep, I was in the United States Air Force for 8 years. I caught the very tail end of Desert Storm, just before it changed to Southern Watch, so I didn't see any fighting, just the occassional small arms pot-shots at our planes and attempted suicide bombings. I was stationed in Riyadh, KSA, as an Air Transportation Specialist (cargo, passengers, baggage, etc...didnt fly).

tjm220
2003-May-27, 08:00 PM
I've seen the Northern Lights a lot growing up in the Canadian prairies. Quite a sight with all the colorful, rippling ribbons (mostly green and some white). Pretty cool to watch. 8)

calliarcale
2003-May-27, 08:49 PM
I've seen them from West Saint Paul, MN, and from Bloomington, MN, which are very close together. It has to be a very good show to see them here, though, because of the light pollution -- both of those cities are southern suburbs of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St Paul, so the northern sky is pretty well washed out by cityglow most of the time. Both times, they were very faint and distinctly greenish, but if you watched you could clearly tell they were not clouds. Clouds just don't move like that. It looks absolutely unreal, and that's what's so cool about it -- because even though it looks unreal, it's actually quite real.

Shadowhawk
2003-May-27, 09:30 PM
I've seen them once, about 45 minues south of Seattle, back in 2001, during the sunspot maximum.
I was online, and a friend who lives north of me popped up on ICQ and asked me if I had seen the aurora that night. It was about 1 in the morning.
I hadn't (and I didn't recieve any email warning from AuroraWatch, which I had been subscribing to for months), so I went outside for about 20 minutes and looked. Nothing.
I went back inside and told him, and he told me what to look for. Not the giant green tendrils you see in photos and stuff, just a faint white flashing.
I tried again, after about 10 minutes, I was starting to get frustrated. I saw a satellite moving west-east, and tracked it for a minute. While I was doing so, I saw something. The sky around the satellite just seemed to pulse white for an instant. I kept watching, and kept seeing these extremely faint sheets of white cascading from the north. I went and woke up my sister, who soon confirmed that I was actually seeing what I thought I was seeing.
We watched for a couple more minutes, then I went and woke up my mom (my dad was out of town). It took her a while to see what we were seeing, but we were lucky in that it started to intensify as we watched. The flashing white sheets were even more visible, and we began to see red tendrils.
It continued this way for a good half hour, strengthing all the time. We even made out a hint of green to the north-northwest, above the light pollution from the Puyallup/Tacoma/Seattle area. Started to die down around then, and within about 15 minutes it was back to faint white sheets, and 10 minutes after that, I couldn't see anything at all.

I can't wait for the next sunspot maximum to roll around; I'm going to try to go further up north to see it better then.

David Hall
2003-May-27, 10:07 PM
the most extraordinary display that i've seen occurred in 1988 i think. i was at a star party during the new moon in august that coincided with the peak of the pleides meteor shower.

Pleiades meteor shower? :-?

BCstargazerr
2003-May-28, 12:27 AM
geez...you make a typo and all of a sudden i feel like a pro-Pxer, cast aside from society ;)

i meant the perseids meteor shower

BigJim
2003-May-28, 12:36 AM
You can see some photographs here:

http://www.csh.rit.edu/~steve/

WOW. :o :o :o

That's it. Decision made. I am going to take a trip north to Alaska or Iceland one day to see them.

(By the way, welcome to the board, Hamlet!)

gethen
2003-May-28, 02:12 AM
I've seem the Northern Lights many times, both from my home in Northern Michigan and from Northern Ontario. Sometimes they look green, sometimes red, sometimes more colorless, but usually shifting, waxing, waning, always beautiful.

beskeptical
2003-May-28, 02:28 AM
good day all :)

the aurora displays varies constantly. ...... :)

I've seen them 4 times and they were different each time.

Bright green wavy flashes
Columns of lights
Incredible full sky rapidly flickering angular shapes
Greenish and pinkish glow in the north east sky

nebularain
2003-May-28, 02:35 AM
geez...you make a typo and all of a sudden i feel like a pro-Pxer, cast aside from society

Get used to it! Believe me, there have been worse! (http://www.badastronomy.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?p=25150#25150) ;)

(That one's become a Board classic!)

beskeptical
2003-May-28, 06:51 AM
I think I said lemurs when I meant lemmings, and, collaborate when I meant corroborate. Grapes will always call you on it. That's his mission. :wink:

BlAcKNoVa
2003-May-28, 08:38 AM
I actually saw one from Calgary, Alberta, about 5 years ago. I was shocked too see one, with it being in the light polluted city of 1 million people almost. It was a green colour, and literally lasted around 5 to 6-Hrs, maybe longer seeming I saw it about 10:00 in the evening, and didn't think much of it until I went back outside around 1:00 AM to grab something from a small convenience store. When I got back home I brought out a lawn chair and sat there for about 2 or 3-Hrs watching it. Quite spectacular. Haven't seen one since though.

Hamlet
2003-May-28, 01:49 PM
You can see some photographs here:

http://www.csh.rit.edu/~steve/

WOW. :o :o :o

That's it. Decision made. I am going to take a trip north to Alaska or Iceland one day to see them.

(By the way, welcome to the board, Hamlet!)

Thanks for the welcome, BigJim! I would definitely recommend Iceland. The people are friendly, English is spoken almost everywhere, the food is excellent and the natural beauty is amazing.

On the other hand, Alaska has always captured my imagination. So if I were to do another aurora trip, I think it would have to be there.

kilopi
2003-May-28, 02:09 PM
Grapes will always call you on it. That's his mission.
My mission is The Next Paradigm. Spelling errors are just a side effect--I had to learn how to spell "paradigm" and now I'm stuck in a spelling paradigm. It's horrible. Pick me up if you see me leiing in the streets.

waynek
2003-May-28, 03:32 PM
This is a cool thread, the descriptions have been very close to my experience and probably better than I can explain, but I'll throw mine in anyway. As a grad student I made several trips to the Swedish Space Physics institute (IRF) in Kiruna (northern Sweden) and it is at a very good magnetic latitude for aurora (100 km or so north of the arctic circle). As I recall they have some good technical info on their site http://www.irf.se/
The Swedes there have a term for people like me who had studied the aurora but never seen them, they call it "Texas Aurora". While I was there, though, I got to see a couple of pretty good discrete aurora and frequent diffuse aurora. To answer an earlier question, I thought the movie "Frequency" got the look and motion pretty good, although any event intense enough to be seen at the latitudes of the movie would be much more energetic (more colors etc.) The motion is really what makes it important to see in person, there's just no way to get that from still pictures and most movies I've seen lack the contrast to really see the details (exposure time vs frame rate I suppose). A good discrete aurora looks alive, the way it moves around in semi-random ways, like some sort of cosmic serpent.
I can also add Sweden (and Norway) to Iceland as being populated for the most part by friendly, English-speaking people. Nearly everyone there under age 50 is fluent in English, and aren't insulted that you don't know their language. Kiruna has a (small) commercial airport so it is easy to get up there, plus there is Esrange (an ESA sounding rocket and ballon range) LKAB iron mine (very large below-ground mine with tours) and in winter the Ice Hotel (really made of Ice). I know this is starting to sound like a vacation commercial, but I really liked the area and recommend it for all aurora-watchers looking for some place to go see it.

darkhunter
2003-May-28, 06:21 PM
In Iceland, many years ago, green waves, silently snaking across a starry sky....

ocasey3
2003-May-30, 04:10 AM
There is a really good chance for aurora tonight for those of us in some of the lower lattitudes. Well, that is if you don't have any cloud cover, dang nabbit.

http://www.spaceweather.com

roidspop
2003-May-30, 04:39 AM
I've seen the aurora several times in New Mexico...33 N...some sort of record for low-latitude viewing. The first time was back in the Fifties...saw red and green curtains. On two other occasions more recently, it was just a sort of fluid, orangish-red glow over the northern horizon. Atmospheric enchilada.

AstroSmurf
2003-May-30, 08:23 AM
Waynek: I think the "Texas Aurora" term is limited to IRF - I've never heard of it before. Most Swedes don't meet ppl who have studied the aurora at all, you know. And the reason we're not offended that for'nurs don't know our language is that 1) we're pretty much thoroughly americanized :roll: and 2) Swedish is almost as difficult as Arabic to learn.

Hamlet: Amazing pictures - looks brighter than I recall though. Your description is spot on - wind blowing through curtains and so forth.

// The Astrosmurf

cyswxman
2003-May-30, 08:54 AM
I have seen them a few times. The best was in 1991 when I was in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Around midnight a very bright red curtain formed almost OVERHEAD and lasted about 1/2 hour. A truly impressive sight. I have seen a few more events from Cheyenne, Wyoming, but it tends to be cloudy a lot from there. :(

Hamlet
2003-May-30, 02:58 PM
Hamlet: Amazing pictures - looks brighter than I recall though. Your description is spot on - wind blowing through curtains and so forth.

// The Astrosmurf

Thanks! The trip was planned to coincide with the peak of aurora activity in Iceland, which apparently is from late October thru early November. The aurorae we saw were bright, but according to the locals, not unusual for that time of year.