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SOLAR WIND UPDATE: The chances a geomagnetic storm today are subsiding as the solar wind slows from a peak velocity near 800 km/s on June 2-3. Even so, high-latitude sky watchers should remain alert for auroras. The current solar wind speed, 600 km/s, is still elevated and capable of provoking polar magnetic disturbances. Aurora alerts: text, voice.
AURORAS IN THE USA: On June 1, Northern Lights spilled across the Canadian border into more than a dozen US states, turning the sky purple and green as far south as Colorado and Nebraska. Subscribers to the Space Weather Alert System (text, voice) knew the storm was coming, but others were surprised:
"Last night, I drove to Crater Lake National Park to photograph the Milky Way rising above the rim," reports Oregon photographer Brad Goldpaint. "I was staring upward towards a clear night sky when suddenly, without much warning, the aurora borealis began erupting in front of me." (continued below)
"With adrenaline pumping, I raced to the edge of the caldera, set up a time-lapse sequence, and watched northern lights dance until sunrise," he continues. "The moon rose around 2am and blanketed the surrounding landscape with a faint glow, adding depth and texture to the shot."
The source of the display was an interplanetary shock wave, which hit Earth's magnetic field during the late hours of May 31st. Forecasters still aren't sure where the shock wave came from. Current speculation focuses on a corotating interaction region (CIR)-a shock-like transition zone between slow and fast streams of solar wind. Whatever it was, the impact ignited some beautiful auroras.
Realtime Aurora Photo Gallery
NOCTILUCENT CLOUDS: On May 30-31, sky watchers across northern Europe witnessed a vivid display of noctilucent ("night-shining") clouds. M. J. S. Ferrier photographed the electric-blue ripples from Barassie Beach in Troon, Scotland:
Noctilucent clouds (NLCs) form near the top of Earth's polar atmosphere when water vapor from the planet below mixes with meteor debris from space. They appear during summer because that is when the mesosphere is coldest and most humid. This year, NLCs appeared early, more than a full month before the solstice, setting the stage for an unusually good NLC-watching season.
High latitude sky watchers should be alert for NLCs in the evenings ahead. In recent years they have been sighted as far south as Utah, Colorado, and Nebraska. Observing tips: Look west 30 to 60 minutes after sunset when the sun has dipped 6o to 16o below the horizon. If you see luminous blue-white tendrils spreading across the sky, you've probably spotted a noctilucent cloud.
Realtime Noctilucent Cloud Photo Gallery
[previous years: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011]
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