solar cycle is at a low point this year, but even during solar minimum,
auroras continue. The best display occured on Dec. 14th when a coronal
mass ejection hit Earth, sparking Northern Lights as far south as
28 , 2006: "This is solar minimum? Tell that to the auroras
that drifted over the horizon here in Wisconsin last night,"
says Tony Wilder of Chippewa Falls, WI.
On the verge
of solar minimum, the sun exploded! The year began with an intense
display of auroras over Europe on Jan.
21. An even stronger storm erupted on May
15 sparking auroras from Alaska to Antarctica
and many rare
places in between. Amazingly, the best display was yet to come:
In September, giant sunspot 798 unleashed nine X-class solar flares,
single-handedly making Sept. 2005 the most active month on the sun
since March 1991. The auroras of Sept.
11 were spectacular.
15, 2005: "This was the best show I have ever seen--and I
got to see the one in November of 2004," said photographer
Mike Hollingshead of
Summer is normally
a poor season for auroras, but the summer of 2004 was different.
Northern Lights descended as far south as California during an extreme
geomagnetic storm. November was even better: A sunspot wider than
Jupiter materialized, crackling with M- and X-class solar flares.
These explosions caused widespread auroras. On Nov.
Northern Lights were spotted in every US state except Hawaii.
view from Sheep Mountain Lodge near Anchorage, Alaska, on Nov.
7, 2004. Photo credit: Calvin Hall.
This was the
year of the "Halloween storms." In late
October and November,
sun went haywire. During a stormy two-week period, three giant
sunspots unleashed eleven X-flares, including an X-28 monster--the
most powerful solar flare ever recorded. Auroras appeared in Florida,
Texas, Australia and many other places where they are seldom seen.
Bonus: On March
25 and 27, scientists created man-made auroras over Alaska.
over Big Bay, Ontario. Oct. 29, 2003. "The display was spectacular--the
best in two years," says photographer Steve Irvine.
was a remarkable month because it began with a geomagnetic storm
that lasted a whopping nine days. During that time sky
watchers spotted weird ring-shaped
auroras, auroras in
Arizona, auroras in
Tasmania, and some auroras that were positively spooky.
Another date of note: April
19 when Northern Lights descended as far south as California.
28 - Mar. 1, March
29 - April 3, April
17-20, April 22-23, May
11-14, May 19-24, July
17, July 20, Aug.
1-4, Aug. 14-16, Aug.
18-21, Sept. 3-4, Sept.
7, Sept. 10-12, Oct.
1-9, Oct. 23-31, November
brightness of the auroras was just totally unbelievable,"
says Jouni Jussila who took this picture from Oulu, Finland,on
Oct. 3, 2002.
cycle reached its peak in 2001. There were plenty of solar flares,
coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and, of course, auroras. It's difficult
to chose a single best display in 2001. There are many dates when
Northern Lights were sighted as far south as Texas, Florida, Arizona--even
Mexico. Storms of note: April
28, Nov. 6,
31-April 1, April
17, April 22-23, May
9-10, June 18, July
29-Oct. 3, Oct.
28, Nov. 5-6, Nov.
19-20, Nov. 24, Dec.
to Spaceweather.com, we have seen auroras in Arizona four times
this year," says photographer Chris Schur of Payson, AZ.
This is the
year of the "accidental aurora." Thousands of sky watchers
saw auroras by accident when they were outdoors looking at something
else. During an alignment of planets on April
6, the most powerful geomagnetic storm since 1989 sparked Northern
Lights as far south as Florida. Months later, during the Perseid
meteor shower of August
12, a similar storm occurred. The best view of all, though,
was enjoyed by space shuttle astronauts who accidentally flew through
some auroras on Sept.
18, Oct. 5, Oct.
over the Rosemary Hill Observatory in central Florida. April 6,
2000. Photo Credit: Francisco Reyes.