June’s Electric Skies

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Images Credit & Copyright: ME.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 21, 2015 the Sun unleashed what some call a “full-halo” coronal mass ejection (CME).  They’re called full-halo because when seen in images, a CME fired directly at the Earth doesn’t shoot off to one side or the other.  Instead it’s like looking down the barrel of a 900,000 mile diameter plasma gun.  The ensuing visual is one of an expanding circular cloud emanating from the sun (image below).  That expanding cloud is the solar material being ejected from the Sun and the expansion is actually that material heading straight for us….awesome!

Even more awesome is that this CME was so high energy it caught up to and joined two earlier CME’s unleashed on June 18 and 19 already en route to Earth and relatively traveled the rest of the way here as one.  The Sunspot responsible for this show is Sunspot region 12371 which is traveling the solar equator.

The progression of the full-halo CME as captured by NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

The progression of the full-halo CME as captured by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

The action as recorded by NOAA's Space Weather KP index.

The action as recorded by NOAA’s Space Weather KP index.

The resulting impact on the Earth’s magnetosphere created a very powerful, G4 (KP8) geomagnetic storm on the night of Monday the 22nd and well into the morning of Tuesday the 23rd.  This, the second largest event of Solar Cycle 24 sent aurora as far south as Virginia which is similar to the March event (St Patrick’s Day & the strongest event of Solar Cycle 24) if I remember correctly.  Remembering that the Earth has two poles; Australia and locations in the Southern Hemisphere also bore witness to this event.

These images that I captured were taken along New Hampshire’s famous Kancamagus Highway at the Hairpin Gazebo rest area.  Like in most cases, long exposure imagery like I’ve done here shows so much more color than you’re able to see with your eyes.  Eyes are instantaneous while long exposure photography can pool light for however long you want before creating an image.  That being said, I was in awe the entire time.  It was mostly cloudy when I arrived but soon after, the sky opened up and the show began.  You could see vast curtains of light dimly shaded green, growing and weakening while pulses of light traveled up then causing a flickering if you will.  Just an amazing night; the likes of which I haven’t seen since early 2000’s during the peak of Solar Cycle 23.

Catching the aurora can be tough.  You have to have some dark sky locations already in mind.  When you hear about an incoming CME you should check the NOAA 3 hour KP forecast frequently while you plan out 1 to 2 days in anticipation of its arrival.  What’s the weather, what Moon phase are we in, will I be working, can I escape the house?   These are all very common obstacles that you will have to take into account and navigate, often on very short notice.  Many nights will end in disappointment, the ones that don’t will make it all worthwhile.

If you’re confused as to how the scales used to determine flare and CME events work here’s my simple but I think effective Aurora Guide.  There’s some great, basic information and I tried to, as simply as I could explain the scales and their correlation.

My Aurora Guide: https://danspace77.com/aurora-guide/

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Image | This entry was posted in Astronomical Events, Astronomy (Learning), Astrophotography (Wide Field), Aurora (Borealis & Australis), Images, My Images, News, Solar System and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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