Thursday, October 28, 2010

Observing - and Feeling - the Northern Lights

- by Debbie Allen

Thank you for posting the pictures of Northern Lights in the October e-News. While beautiful, I suspect that they were not taken by a participant of the Northern Conference of 2009 as I have seen these pictures in magazines, most recently on the cover of SkyNews. (None-the-less, they stimulated me to report on the real experiences with which the Northern Lights have graced my back yard.

After the Northern Conference I moved from Vancouver  to my home soil of North-Central Alberta.  Currently I reside north of Edmonton on the way to Athabasca.  As the days have grown shorter the appearance of a Northern glow has become ever more present this fall.  I get off work at 10:30 pm; my half hour drive northward home allows me great opportunity to view the darkened rural heavens.  I do keep my eyes on the road as I also live in moose territory.

A few weeks ago the Northern Lights stepped up their intensity but still as a glow.  I watched Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull rise through the Northern Lights, accompanied by a meteor.  Then, on Friday October the 8th 2010, as I drove home I had to force my eyes to stay on the road.  This was the night of the Draconids Meteor shower, and the Northern Lights were dancing.  Bundled up in my winter clothes, with blanket and pillow, I spent the next two and half hours with my eyes glued to the skies in the north.  Behind me, Jupiter at mid-heaven, was casting nearly as much light as might the Moon, who was invisible that night.  The Milky Way was crystal clear in the black sky, every Constellation was filled with light.  The whole Constellation of the Great Bear was visible as if striding across the brilliant glowing arch of the Northern Lights.  Pollux and Castor in the Constellation of Gemini were rising through the Northern Lights like two headlights in the East.

A few short meteors flicked away from Draco.  A few meteors streamed through the Great Bear, while at the same time the Northern Lights began to undulate from the most eastern point of the glowing arch (under Castor and Pollux) towards the darkest place under the centre of the glow, due north.  The Northern Lights, glowing intense greenish-white, began to undulate towards the feet of The Great Bear.  They stopped short of The Bear, undulating like a great ribbon when the deepest glowing arch was pierced through, like an arrow, from the East by a bright red meteor!  The reaction of the Northern Lights was to ignite!  In the area pierced by the Michaelic Iron, the Northern Lights shot up to the knees and head of the Great bear, undulating like great Angels beating their wings.  I sat there until my eyes felt burnt.  In addition to the light show my amphitheatre has surround sound with slapping beaver tails on the river; the conversation between groups of coyotes; and those between owls, interspersed with a horse whinny or a cow lowing.

The Northern Lights have continued in varying intensity since then.  We are in a warm, dry spell of weather, so the nights are also clear.  Last night the Northern Lights were again dancing but one must sleep sometime!  I awoke every two hours, and yes they were still going, climbing higher in the sky.  Finally I bundled up and went outside at 5:30 am.  The Northern Lights were competing with the approaching dawn, but the stars were still intensely visible.  At that time of morning Taurus, Orion, and Sirius the Dog Star were visible in the South, and great waves of Northern Lights were streaming from the northern horizon to mid-heaven.  I sat in the corner of my yard for an hour all the while being buffeted by the gusts of strobing Northern Lights and Solar wind.  Again the Northern Lights were pierced through by a meteor from the south-east, and again they reacted.  They were already strobing intensely and where they were shot through they again took up great wing formation reaching way up in the sky.

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