I was quite upset this morning when I read that spectacular northern lights were out last night. It is fairly rare to see northern lights in our area, and they are hard to predict, so when they do occur I always hope to be awake and out in the night air too see them. Given that I wake up during the wee early morning hours in order arrive at work on time, I would expect to have a better chance than most to see the northern lights. But I missed them. By the time I woke up this morning, clouds were already in the area. From reports I have see and read, the lights were out from sunset onward.
What makes this episode particularly depressing is that the northern lights were spectacular. Judging by the pictures, it looks like they were the best since 1989. Anyway, the best I have seen. The northern lights last night were farther south than usual being seen all the way down to Arkansas. Check SpaceWeather for a recap of the event and pictures from many different states.
What makes this even more galling is that even though the geomagnetic storm was not well predicted days in advance, it was noticed at 1pm yesterday afternoon by satellites orbiting the earth. A fellow in Madison (Randy Halverson) was alert to the short-term forecast of auroras (northern lights) and got these beautiful pictures. I guess I should pay a little closer attention to geomagnetic storm alerts. I used to check the forecast on a daily basis, but after the sun went into a very quiet spell during 2009 and 2010, I stopped watching because it seemed there would never be northern lights again. The good news is that the solar cycle (sunspots and flares) is more active now and it is supposed to remain active into 2012. This means there should be better than average opportunities to see the northern lights. During the winter, the viewing is often better because of the longer darker nights and the clear dry air.
If anyone happened to get pictures of the northern lights last night, feel free to send them to email@example.com and perhaps I can show them on the morning show later this week.
From a glowing sky to a glowing ocean, researchers now think they have discovered what cause large patches of the ocean to glow bright blue. It is possible that plankton (dinoflagellates) are creating all of this light. They have been known to possess the capability of bio-luminescence and now scientists have (possibly) figured out how it happens through the motion of the water disturbing the flow of electrical current through the body of the plankton .
But why would large areas of the ocean glow with the light of these plankton? It is likely happening during rare large blooms of this particular plankton, similar to how red tides sometimes occur. The plankton just take over an area of the ocean to the detriment of other life. They sometimes produce higher concentrations of toxic chemicals due to their over-abundance.
The glowing blue ocean had been a reported for centuries, but was not confirmed by satellite until 2005. I can’t imagine how eerie and beautiful it would be to travel through a bright blue glowing ocean at night. Don’t hold your breath for seeing this phenomena anytime soon. These blooms are probably more difficult to predict in space and time than the northern lights. It would be a rare occurrence indeed to see both at the same time!
Have a fine Tuesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.