8 November 2004: Northfield, Minnesota

I have finally seen the light, so to speak. I had hoped that one of the fringe benefits to this unplanned and unwanted move to Minnesota would be a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Given the fact that we are rapidly approaching the bottom of the 11-year solar activity cycle, I did not expect one of the strongest auroral events of the entire cycle.

This event was expected, just not at such a high level, and I had already "warned" the students in my introductory astronomy course, as well as the other astronomy professor here, and most of the LAVA subscribers. The various activity indicators indicated that things were heating up as it was getting dark, and I headed over to our on-campus observatory which has a very nice northerly view from its grounds. I had my camera and by sheer luck had some ASA 800 film in my possession.

With significant twilight already visible at 5:50pm, I went out and could see some dramatic curtains of green light already visible. I rushed back in and sent out a quick message to all of my physics and astronomy colleagues before setting up my camera and tripod. The other thing I had going for me was buying a 24mm wide-angle lens for my old Minolta camera. I had picked it up on eBay the previous December as a result of the significant aurora display that October. I had never had a chance to test it out on the night sky. But, it worked out extremely well as I had the wide field of view to capture some features that might have overwhelmed even at 35mm focal length, and yet the focal length is not so small that it overly distorts the view. Here we go!

Some of the brightest parts of the aurora were curtains of green light in the northern part of the sky. The following photo shows these curtains looming over the Carleton water tower and the Recreation Center.

In the following photos, we are looking slightly west of north over Boliou Hall, showing some blues, purples, and reds in addition to the green curtains.

Perhaps the most spectacular colors (especially in the photos) were almost directly overhead. The following two photos show what is known as a "corona", and the red color was visible with the eye, although not as intense as depicted in the photos.

In this intense display of the Northern Lights, some of the brightest activity reached all the way into the southern sky. The following photo shows a view to the southwest with the aurora shining down onto the dome of the Goodsell Observatory 16" telescope. We believe that the subtle red hue on the dome is really due to the aurora shining down on it.

Even more remarkably, the following photo was taken looking due south, showing a bright green glow covering most of the southern sky and a fainter glow nearly at the southern horizon! Again, the dome seems to be reflecting a bit of the color of the aurora.

Finally, here is a photo looking northeast, which shows a mix of red and green colors with the constellation Perseus in the center of the frame and the Pleiades star cluster visible above the tree with the missing top.


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File last modified: 11 November 2005

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