Thursday, October 22, 2009

There was a surprise in the sky tonight

Some old friends came by to visit tonight -- the aurora borealis or northern lights.

I had just gone outside for an armload of firewood to stave off the frost when I glanced up and saw them. They have been absent from the skies for nearly two years, apparently the result of unusually calm solar activity. Solar radiation that erupts from sunspots speeds its way to Earth and lights up the gases in the outer atmosphere. Astronomers reported this spring that the Sun had not begun its usual 11-year cycle of intense solar storms. I didn't need to hear that as I already knew we were missing our usual nighttime show.

And now it's back!

As soon as I saw the lights I reached for my pocket digital camera and took some shots.

After a little experimenting I discovered the setting for candlelight produced the best results.

I know northern lights are ephemeral at the best of times: here one minute and gone the next so I clicked away as fast as I could.

There are few indicators to predict what the lights will do but one that I've noticed is that when the lights spread all over the sky, not just in the north, it's going to be a good show.

So I ran inside, donned my floater coat, got in a boat and went across the narrows for what should be the best seat. And the lights disappeared!

Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

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