Thanks to the record breaking solar activity in the month of October 2003, Ohio was treated to some of the finest aurora I have seen in a very long time. Following you will find reports from the dates corresponding with my auroral sightings for 2003. Enjoy!
October 29/30, 2003 - Aurora Over Ohio...
Comments: I knew we were under aurora watch... And I also knew we were under clouds. The sky here can be so stubborn at times - in terms of obstinate or hard to work with. You know what? You've met your match in ol' ~T here... It is in Taurean nature to be stubborn as well, but I am in terms of perserverence. After all, haven't I told you my three P's of astronomy?
Patience, Practice and Persistence....
Beginning my auroral watch with clear skies at approximately 5:30 a.m. on October 29, I stood outside and watched a massive red "glow dome" to the north. Although the tiny village where I live has very little light pollution to speak of, there is a rogue chance that a slight patch of fog could have caused a reflection that might account for this red coloration even though the rest of the skies are clear. I continued to watch for approximately 30 minutes, but when no pillaring effects showed themselves, I dismissed what I saw and went about my preparations for work. Later, on the 30 minute drive into the city, the Sun had began to rise and I could see a wall of clouds to the west and on a northward curve. Were these same clouds present approximately an hour ago? Funny that... I was seeing stars. Of course, when I returned later that afternoon, I went to check the recent solar data and news reports... And saw this clip from "Universe Today":
"John Chumack was in Ohio and sent in the picture you see beside this story - they look like a red curtain against the horizon. He saw them twice at 4:30 am and 5:40 am."
Open-mouthed at the photograph that accompanied the story, I could only start laughing as I see precisely the same sky conditions I witnessed that very morning! Although I was too late to have seen the auroral effects at 4:30, I was absolutely there at 5:40... And I can only thank Fraser Cain for his accurate and on-the-spot reporting. I'd certainly call this a confirmation!
Now excited at the possiblity of watching a repeat showing of the awesome display we had a couple of years back. Of course, that wall of clouds had continued to cover the sky during the day and the chances were quite slim. Oddly enough, as I sat in my home office reading over the day's data, I could see out my window that those clouds were breaking up! Suprised, I mentioned it to the "Bossman" and when he ran over the sattelite information he showed a two county clearing that should hit my area around sunset. Clearing? Oh, man... I am on it!
And sure enough, by the time the skies were darkening, the stars had come out... Along with the Moon. Knowing it wasn't dark enough to reveal auroral activity, I took out the old Celestron 4.5 to pass the time. Metius, Jannsen, Fabricus... the edge of Crisium... Atlas and Hercules... Endymion! But this is not what I came out here after, so putting away my equipment I went back in after a cup of coffee and began my steady northward observance. Oddly enough, the entire northern sky was alight in the bluish/green dome that signifies auroral activity. This "dome" extends with a very clean division through Hercules to the west, peaks about ten degrees above Polaris, and continues to the east through Andromeda. Baffled, I go to many different vantage points in the backyard wanting that positive identification of stars behind the glow. No doubt about it. Ursa Major shines confidently, as does the dimmer stars of Draco... Lacerta is in the influence of this glow as well... And the stars of Cassiopeia, Perseus, and Andromeda are all highly visible. Even Capella nearer to the horizon is shining on...
So I watch. I keep seeing movement within the glow dome and I could almost cheer as the faint concentric waves of auroral energy begin to present themselves. This is the beginning... After many years of having trained myself for both deep sky and meteor observation, I cannot keep my eyes away from area of Perseus and Andromeda. I am picking up movement. It's subtle. I can't quite define it. All I can say is that it looks almost as if black patches are appearing and disappearing in that area. About that time I realize that my radio station is having a hard time holding a signal, and I walk back toward the garage to adjust it. I had no sooner made it to the doorway than the green spires began to appear due north. These look like every picture you've ever seen of aurora... Like frozen green flame. Radio forgotten, I fumble my hand against the wall beside the door reaching for the telephone. I'm not taking my eyes off of this! Looking down only long enough to dial the number, within seconds I have the correct time.
7:04 p.m., EST.
In awe, I hang up the phone and walk backwards directly into the big pine tree and promptly fall into it. Disentangling myself, I cannot quit staring into Perseus, for a huge glowing cloud of red nebulosity is beginning to form! Laughing, I run to the edge of the east field... The action isn't directly to the north! The green spires below Polaris continue, but huge blue/white pillars of light are moving in waves directly through Cassiopeia and across into Andromeda. Fantasy clouds of glowing red continue to appear and disappear covering these northeastern constellations. About this time I realize I hear dogs... Not just a dog. Or two or three dogs... All the dogs! Every single dog within hearing distance of where I observe was barking. Given my location, you realize that it is possible to "hear" things at distance. And it wasn't just the domesticated canines... The coyotes in the woods were in on this too!
And then the ribband happened...
Stretching laterally through Auriga, the pure blue/green "wave" of aurora caught and held. Holding out my shaking hands, I realize this expands roughly 20 degrees in length and fluctuates anywhere from 5 to 10 degrees in width. I watch amazed as the ribband seems to undulate in colors - running anywhere from a pale cyan to a vivid orange. The soft white pillars, like distant searchlights, continue to alternate sky positions from the northeastern horizon up to the zenith. Soft red "clouds" are still appearing in patches here and there... But I cannot stop staring at the ribband. Sparing a look behind me, I see that the clouds are fast returning from the southwest and I realize I am on borrowed time. I have enjoyed a solid 20 minutes of incredible auroral activity, and I run back inside to quickly send off an e.mail alert to those with better position than myself.
Incredibly enough, the aurora held through the hazing clouds. The northern dome persisted until well after 8:00 and the ribband turned the clouds orange. Little by little, the clouds thickened and by 8:20 the show was over...
But was it?
Laughing over the "Northern Lights" strict refusal to polar align, I am cold and happy and return indoors once again to check the data. I am totally blown away as I realize the once again we have had another CME! It doesn't get much better than this, does it? Smiling, I realize the auroral display is going to continue into the days ahead and I decide to keep a running watch during the night time hours. I returned again at 3:10 a.m. to view that soft blue/white dome again. With Orion standing directly opposite of it, a few random meteors completed the picture - But no awesome display. Again I returned between the times of 5:15 and 6:00 a.m., to be rewarded with a soft orange dome... But again, no significant activity.
It was really a wonderful night, and I've got no complaints.
October 30, 2003 - Aurora... Encore!
Comments: Yes. It is still the same date as the most current solar pictures, but the events feel so seperate from one another I had to list them this way. There was another totally unprecedented and far stronger display of the aurora borealis tonight... Call it a "command performance". I have no idea when it started. I was eating my dinner. Taking my cup of coffee with me, I really didn't think it was dark enough but I figured I'd watch the Moon for a bit until it deepened. Right?
The second I stepped out the door, it was already in progress. The entire northeastern quandrant of the sky looked like it was on fire! Giving a war whoop my Scottish ancestors would be proud of, I ran to the east field and could have dropped to my knees it was so beautiful. Like a Van Gogh painting, the strokes of orange, red and pink were so bold they were almost tangible. Slanting from due east at the zenith, they slashed their way against the starry backdrop down to Capella on the northeastern horizon. The deep hues looked almost as if they were scraped against the sky instead of airbrushed on. I watched in awe as the visage waivered and incredible pale blue/green clouds formed both above and below. Huge white pillars undulated into view... At the edges one would brighten while another would fade. The intensity was incredible...
Trying to keep my science head about me, I try to gauge the size... Realizing this incredible glowing mass is spanning a full 60 degrees of skyline. Can you judge magnitude of aurora? My guess is it is at least magnitude 0... For it literally eradicated all the stars of Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda. Unbelievable... The cyan colored clouds would fade in and out quickly, but the massive red nebulosity was as steady as a rock. Again, my curiousity is aroused because this is not north! We are so almost due east it's frightening. (yep. i'm really scared. just ask me. we'uns here in oh hi ya have never heard of werds like magnetosphere or dipolar. ;) So I had to go further out into the field just to make sure simliar happenings weren't occuring west of the pole either. Nope. And at 7:20?
They simply faded away...
Wow. Same bat time, same bat channel, eh? Slipping back into the house, I alerted my compadres and sent my report. Is it really all over but the cryin'? No way, baby. The night is far too beautiful for it just to end there. When I finished with my business, I though perhaps then I would go out the with telescope for awhile.... Maybe chase an asteroid or simply view some doubles. And when I walked out that door again? WHAM! Directly north was a huge white spire looking all for the world like a distant searchlight aimed at the zenith. So I did what any other red-blooded scientist would do.... Grabbed a beer and a lawn chair and went out to enjoy the show!
I watched for hours... Thin green clouds, white spires, and glowing orange vapor. I think of a song a dear friend once shared with me called "Aurora Comes Dancing Down". On the warm winds you can hear the restless coyotes in the east woods, and to the south the mournful cry of the canadian geese near Owl Creek. They make me think of seagulls and a snippet of another old song comes to mind...
"A cloud appears above your head; A beam of light comes shining down on you, Shining down on you. The cloud is moving nearer still. Aurora borealis comes in view; Aurora comes in view.
And I ran, I ran so far away. I just ran, I ran all night and day. I couldn't get away....
Reached out a hand to touch your face; You're slowly disappearing from my view; Disappearing from my view. Reached out a hand to try again; I'm floating in a beam of light with you; A beam of light with you.
And I ran, I ran so far away. I just ran, I ran all night and day. I couldn't get away."
(And I did run, didn't I? I am sorry. One hurt was all it took and I gave you everything bad about myself so you couldn't see me running. I guess I still am...)
But I'm not running now. How beautiful this night is!! The Moon seems so far away as it tilts to the west. The occassional meteor scratches the sky like a silver tear. A blue white dome of light stands before me, and I sit in contentment watching as the aurora comes and goes. I wish my friends well that were going to the Observatory tonight... As I do for my friends that practice as I do. May it have been as grand for you as it was for me! I hate myself for being tired, but when the Moon has quit the sky I realize that I must go as well. My words cannot truly describe all the beauty I have seen here tonight. (although i've got to hand it to victor... he did it in two words. ;) Will you allow me four?
Por amour du ciel....
November 20, 2003 - Aurora Comes Dancing Down - With A Vengeance...
Comments: Not only was I awake, but I was in a state of unreality. I walked outside at 6:30 pm EST and was met by four, huge, neon green, glowing clouds due south. Excuse me? South? Absolutely in a state of shock, I walked to the east field edge and looked about... Nada. Turning around, I still could not believe what I was seeing!
Believe it, ~T...
Mouth open, I stumbled out to the south field like I was in a dream. This is aurora! Oh, my gosh... Clouds simply do not glow like this! Not only do they "not glow", but considering the stiff breeze we have tonight? They should be moving as well. Pulling my coat tighter around myself, I looked around. There is not a cloud in the sky, nor has there been all day. The southwest is simply eradicated in this glowing mass. Huge pods of neon green spaced themselves out from about 40 degrees above the horizon completely to the southeast! Still in shock, I could only watch as they brightened and dimmed, then a huge white spire rose directly from the southernmost and shot straight up toward the zenith...
Clouds do not produce spires.
As I watched, a deep red nebulosity began to engulf the sky just south of Aquila. All thoughts of chasing Comet Encke, even briefly tonight, vanished. The deep red continued and held as the seperate clouds of green melded together in one long ribband across the entire southern skyline. The wind was so strong I could barely breathe, and I know I'm risking giving myself pnuemonia from being out here... But it looks like the a scene from the movie "Damnation Alley"! If this really is radiation, and it is... Guess it ain't gonna' matter, huh? But, after a few minutes longer, it did start to matter because my head was uncovered and I was sure starting to feel the effects of that cold wind. Fearful of missing something fantastic, I ran back in the house and put on an additional coat and grabbed a blanket as well.... I should be calling and alerting people to look, but oh, man.. They ought to be seeing this!
After about an hour, I took my eyes of the southern skies long enough to drag my lawn chair out and tuck down beside the pool for some wind break. Spires continue to appear like white search lights. Around the beam itself, the sky would gradually turn red, and then the spire itself would turn red. The green glow would come and go... Allowing the stars of the westered Capricornus, the southern Aquarius, and the eastern Cetus to show through once again.
Clouds just don't fade in and out like that.
At one point, I thought the show was over... And then it mirrored the Milky Way! A huge faded white spire absolutely copied the angle of the Milky Way and the constellations of Cynus, Aquila, Saggitta, and Vulpecula ended in a cone of multi-colored auroral light. This had to be one of the most fantastic things I've ever seen! The southern clouds are gone now... But as the spire that paralleled the Milky Way disappeared? They re-appeared again. How long is this going to go on? I don't believe it...
Here and there random meteors scratched the sky adding appeal to the show. I really wasn't looking for them, but movement catches my eye. Any type of movement... I almost went back in, but I don't believe what I'm seeing and I pull my blankets tighter around myself. The effervescent glowing clouds continue to dissolve, reform and emit towering spires. At one point in time there were ones positioned both east and west of the now culminated Mars. I watched as first one, then the other turned slowly red and evolved into nebulous patches. Each time I thought this was about to end... It would begin again... And always with those glowing green clouds.
I watched this incredulous display of the aurora borealis that doesn't polar align for two hours before I gave it up. Somehow, somewhere, I need an explanation for all I have seen tonight. Away from the pole? Yes. Away from normality? I need to know why. My head hurts from everything I have seen and I realize that I must stop now. It is time for me to send my auroral sighting reports and the facts out to the proper places and write a few words here while I still have presence of mind to do so. For a few moments there, if I had been anyone less than myself?
I might have believed it was the end of the world as we know it.
When the activity had finally slowed enough that I could be dragged away long enough to report to the proper authorities, I had this letter from my friend, Otto P. waiting...
"There be northern lights in these southern skies! Bright neon greens and spots of fairly intense red. One green splotch is only 10 degrees above the ESE horizon...folks in Tennessee might actually be seeing them. "
Awesome! Otto is in on this too!!!
Of course, not only did I send off my reports but I asked one of the finest article writers I know for an answer as to "why" the auroral acitivty was to the south. Without further ado? Some words from Dr. Tony Phillips...
I've just this instant posted a picture on spaceweather.com taken tonight in Ohio. That photographer also noted that the auroras were in the south. This means the auroral oval, which normally surrounds the north pole, expanded to such an extent that Ohio was actually inside it.
The oval was south of you!
This has been a good storm.
Regards, Tony "
Dr. Tony Phillips, editor
And indeed it has been a "good storm" Dr. Phillips. One that stopped me in my tracks and changed my perceptions of how things "should be". I appreciate all the fine contributions that have been made to this particular page, and it is my hope that you all will continue to...
Rock the night!