Aurora seen in Wyoming night sky
by Pinedale Online!
June 17, 2012
If you happened to be up early on Sunday morning (Fatherís Day, June 17th), you might have noticed additional lights in the night sky (besides the usual glow from the Pinedale Anticline gas field). According to www.spaceweather.com, the Earth is experiencing a geomagnetic storm in the wake of a double coronal mass ejection (CME) impact on June 16th. The hit, which strongly compressed Earth's magnetic field, lit up both poles with bright auroras.
Bob Rule, KPIN 101.1FM radio, reported to Pinedale Online that early Sunday morning, around 3 AM, he stepped out on his front yard, north of Pinedale, to look for M31, the Andromeda galaxy (the only thing in the night sky that can been seen with the naked eye which is outside our own galaxy), and to his surprise, the entire northern sky was lit up with a white glow. After looking at the northern sky for awhile, he noticed occasional columns of white light extending upwards from the northern horizon. Although he was not able to get a picture of it, he reports it looked very much like the photo shown here (this photo is how it looked from New Zealand Ė ours didnít have the red glow, just white columns of light)
A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields rising above the solar corona or being released into space from the surface of the sun. When the ejection is directed towards the Earth, the shock wave of the traveling mass of Solar Energetic Particles causes a geomagnetic storm that may disrupt the Earth's magnetosphere, causing particularly strong aurorae in large regions around Earth's magnetic poles. These are also known as the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) in the northern hemisphere, and the Southern Lights (aurora australis) in the southern hemisphere. Coronal mass ejections, along with solar flares of other origin, can disrupt radio transmissions and cause damage to satellites and electrical transmission line facilities, resulting in potentially massive and long-lasting power outages.
In checking www.spaceweather.com, it appears that the "northern lights" might be observed again Sunday night in Sublette County and much of the northern portions of Wyoming and throughout the world.
Bob reports that M31 was also there, as expected. To the naked eye, it looks like a very faint star, but it is actually an entire galaxy of stars. With a good backyard telescope, star gazers can actually see the spiral galaxy. It is helpful to have a star chart to know where to look for it. A few months from now, M31 will be visible at a more reasonable evening viewing time.
Thank you to Bob Rule for his contribution to this story.