Aurora Alert This Weekend

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 12, 2013 – 11:57 am -

Skywatchers should be on the lookout for Northern Lights starting April 11th, Friday night into Sunday morning thanks to the most massive solar flare this year so far.  The Sun threw off  a huge cloud of charged particles a few days ago and it is expected to arrive sometime over the weekend of April 13th.

Latest NOAA forecast reports indicate there is a %60 chance of geomagnetic storms in the early morning hours of Saturday (April 13). The large sunspot group AR1719 is Earth-facing and is quite active still with  15% chances of it producing an x-class solar flare (strongest possible) in the next 24 hours. So this means there may be even stronger solar storms on the way soon. We will just have to wait and see what happens.  Stay tuned…

Read the rest of my solar storm story at National Geographic news.

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Best Aurora Shots from Winter

Written by The Night Sky Guy on April 1, 2013 – 1:39 pm -

The past couple of months have produced wonderful sky shows across many high-latitude countries. We are heading towards the solar maximum in the next couple of months so hopefully more intense and colorful auroras will be in store for skywatchers.

Check out some of the most impressive pics from the editors at National Geographic in my new gallery…

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Watch for Noisy Northern Lights?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on July 13, 2012 – 12:06 pm -

A controversial new study was released this week that states observers of aurora borealis should really perk up their ears and listen for eerie sounds from these cosmic fireworks shows. A Finnish researcher has been able to record baffling ‘clapping’ sounds that appear to be directly connected to intense northern lights episodes.

While this new evidence looks quite convincing, the researcher believes that the best is yet to come. Within the next year the sun’s activity will continue to increase as it reaches its 11 year peak called solar maximum in 2013. Already this past year has seen a pretty noticeable  uptick in the number and size of sunspots and monster solar flares peppering the Sun’s surface. This has resulted in more frequent and intense auroras being visible in southerly latitudes that usually don’t see much sky activity.

Now the Finnish scientist is banking on this increased aurora activity coupled with the popularity of mobile recording devices like smartphones and iPads translating into more chances for skywatchers to hear and record something than ever before.

“One of the motivations in publicizing these new findings is to wake skywatchers up to keep their ears open and make those observations – using mobile devices and even their home video cameras,” says the researcher.

Read more about this novel research on noisy auroras and hear an actual clip of these eerie sounds in my new story at National Geographic News.

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Solar Storm Update

Written by The Night Sky Guy on March 9, 2012 – 2:36 pm -

Two solar flares up that erupted on the sun Tuesday didn’t cause quite the storm that was expected.
Some experts believe the threat from the solar storm has passed, but space weather forecasters say it’s still too early to tell.
There is a chance that the storm’s effects could continue and intensify through Friday morning, early into Saturday morning.

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Did Earth Dodge Solar Storm Bullet this Week?

Written by The Night Sky Guy on January 26, 2012 – 1:18 pm -

Our planets is recovering from the largest solar storm recorded in more than eight years, thanks to a giant wave of charged particles from the sun that slammed into Earth’s magnetic field Tuesday morning. (See pictures of auroras generated by the solar storm.) The action started in the early hours on Monday when NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught an extreme ultraviolet flash from a solar flare, which was followed by a giant coronal mass ejection, or CME—a cloud of superheated gas and charged particles hurled off the sun.

The cloud headed toward Earth at a speed of about three million miles (4.8 million kilometers) an hour, reaching the planet a mere 35 hours after it had been unleashed. planes were rerouted and radio communication in some places were affected too. But space weather forecasters say, while the solar radiation storm was a strong one, it could have been much worse and a lot of our technological assets may be at risk.

Read the rest of my National Geographic news story to find out what’s at risk from solar storms, why scientists think we may have just dodged a bullet, and why we may not be so lucky next time.

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Auroras in Action Monday Night

Written by The Night Sky Guy on October 25, 2011 – 4:51 pm -

Skywatchers across much of North America reported seeing lots of red and green lights in the evening sky. Thanks to an incoming coronal mass ejection that slammed into Earth’s magnetic field around 2 pm Eastern time on Monday, October 24th, the atmosphere was flooded with charged particles causing northern lights to appear as far south as California, New Mexico and Georgia. In Montreal, Canada, where I am located, in a very brightly lit suburb filled with bright sports fields and porch lights I could easily see green spikes cut across the northern sky (see image below), dancing in front of my eyes for well over an hour, until 11 pm, when it started to subside.


Faint green auroras pierce through heavily light polluted city suburban sky. Credit: Andrew Fazekas

Check out this neat time-lapse video taken in Georgia early this morning (Oct.25) that shows the eerie curtains of orange and reds creep across the northern horizon. These intense deep red auroras are a rare treat and usually only show up during intense geomagnetic storms like this one, generated as high as 300 km in altitude.

Stay tuned for more colourful auroras surely to appear in the coming months as the sun becomes more active as it climbs towards its peak solar cycle in 2013. Solar viewing telescopes have found a significant increase in sunspot activity – larger and more numerous – and if these sunspots produce solar flares and clouds of charged particles when they just happen to face Earth – then we get a chance to see auroral activity.

So with more and more sunspots popping up on the sun’s surface astronomers are expecting a definite uptick in the number of northern lights this autumn and winter, which means there will be more opportunities for intense geomagnetic storms that can cause really impressive sky lights as least as good, if not better than the one many witnessed Monday night.

Stay tuned for aurora alerts on my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

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Buzz about Solar Big Bang

Written by The Night Sky Guy on June 8, 2011 – 10:11 pm -

There is a lot of excitement on the web the last couple of days related to the massive solar flare/prominence seen on the surface of the sun by a NASA satellite. Indeed astronomers who study our neighbouring star say they have never seen so much matter ejected off the Sun and rain back down on it. If you haven’t seen the original video posted by NASA scientists then check it out below. It really is an awesome sight – especially when you consider that this flare is hundreds of times larger than our little blue marble we live on – planet Earth.

What’s the fallout for us here from this titanic fireworks show? The solar eruption was considered a medium one by scientists and was away from the central region of the Sun.  Luckily the resulting giant particle cloud coming off of this event is not heading directly towards Earth – because if it was it would surely have fried some communication satellites and wreaked havoc with our electronic technologies. But we may still see a great light show in the form of some Northern Lights Thursday night.   Check out my National Geographic column on what we might expect to see. 

Also making big space news this week is the discovery of a new class of supernova- the most violent events known in the cosmos. THese exploding stars are 100 times more massive than our Sun and are at leaast 10 times brighter than anything seen before. 

Astronomers hope to use these cosmic flashlights to see distant galaxies which otherwise would remain invisible to us here on Earth.  Check out my news story.


Don’t  forget you can always get late-breaking, instant stargazing news anytime by joining my fanpage on Facebook, or get  email alerts sent directly to your inbox

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Massive Solar Eruption Coming Our Way

Written by The Night Sky Guy on February 13, 2011 – 11:47 pm -

UPDATE Feb.15,8 pm: Early Tuesday morning a second much more massive solar eruption occurred on the Sun and it appears the resulting charged cloud is heading towards Earth. Arrival time is estimated to occur lat Wednesday to Thursday. The flare , which is the largest seen in 4 years, was categorized as X-2 which is very strong and has the ability to cause planet-wide radio blackouts and bright auroras down to mid-latitudes.  Look towards the northern horizon around local midnight for possible northern lights the next couple of nights… Stay tuned for more info…

It appears that the Sun has belched a supercharged cloud of particles called a coronal mass ejection (CME) that may have Earth in its crosshairs. Tip of the hat to for breaking this story.
The solar eruption happened on Sunday morning around a newly formed group of sunspots, and indications are that it should slam into Earth’s magnetic field around Feb.15th – Tuesday.

Flash seen near center of Sun on Sunday- start of solar eruption

What really has made experts perk up is that its pretty much one of the largest eruptions that have been directed towards Earth in quite a while. The Sunspots group associated with it consists of ten Earth-sized spots – wow! The group is still growing in size – already more than 100,000 km in diameter.  And expectations are that more eruptions may be on their way.

It looks like it was a medium sized eruption on the solar flare ‘richter’ scale – M class – and might cause some colourful auroras so folks living in high-latitude areas – like Canada should be on alert. At this point experts are waiting for more data to come in from Sun watching satellites about the blast itself to know exactly if it will hit Earth directly or will it be just a glancing blow.

Posted in Auroras, Sun | 4 Comments »

Latest Night Sky Episode

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 25, 2010 – 11:13 am -

This week’s stargazing news includes observing Jupiter at its best, finding elusive Uranus and watching Northern Lights on the web with project Auroramax.

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Northern Lights go Viral!

Written by The Night Sky Guy on September 24, 2010 – 10:32 pm -

auroramaxViewing the northern lights just hit primetime this week with the launch of a LIVE online observatory installed on the outskirts of the city of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, Canada and run by the Canadian Space Agency. Called AuroraMax, a camera equipped with a fish eye lens snaps an image of the entire overhead sky every 10 seconds, making near real time views of auroras available to anyone with an internet connection.

Check out the entire website AuroraMax here

The hope is that it won’t just offer an entertainment alternative to the late night TV talk shows but actually help demystify some of the science behind the Northern Lights and bring attention to research being done on the solar-terrestrial relationship. When night-time falls in Yellowknife the camera is turned on…I have the live feed from that camera you can check out at the bottom of my rightside column….

Don’t  forget you can always get late-breaking, instant stargazing news anytime by joining my fanpage on Facebook, or get  email alerts sent directly to your inbox

Posted in Auroras, Solar System | 118 Comments »