Fire in the Sky: March 30, 2001


During more than 20 years as an amateur astronomer, I have been blessed to observe some magnificent sights. In 1994, I saw Jupiter pummeled by comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. In 1996, I saw comet Hyakutake stretch halfway across the sky, from the Little Dipper to Leo. From 1995 to 1997, comet Hale-Bopp was a nearly constant companion under the stars. I thought those sights could never be topped. I was wrong.

Aurorae are a magical and mystical sight. Picture an artist splattering a canvas with dollops of red, green, blue and gold paint. Now, imagine those splashes of color dancing to some unheard musical rhythm and you'll have a pretty good idea what these magnificent celestial light shows are like. They are truly awesome sights, particularly for those of us who live far enough from the frozen tundra that aurorae are rarely seen.

The images below were taken during two different auroral displays. The first collection was shot during an auroral display early on the morning of October 29, 2003. Less than 24-hours before, a massive solar flare had erupted from the Sun's surface. This event, one of the most energetic recorded in the last 30-years, sent a stream of charged particles hurtling through space toward Earth. Travelling at over 4 million miles per hour, the shock front impacted Earth's magnetic field about 20-hours later, producing a magnificent sight. Between 1:35 am and 1:50 am (8:35 UT and 8:50 UT), the display was most intense. The mountains north of Flagstaff were fringed by a white glow. This was quickly followed by pillars of red, green and blue which pulsated upward from behind Humphrey's Peak, Arizona's tallest mountain. It reminded me of the LED display monitoring the output of a sound system. It was a brief but spectacular show.

October 29, 2003

Click on the thumbnails below to see the full sized images.

The aurora begins: 1:35 am MST
The sky begins to burn: 1:37 am MST
Pillars of color; 1:40 am MST
The aurora splashes the Dipper: 1:45 am MST
Painting the Bowl

These next images are from an aurorae witnessed on the night of March 30-31, 2001. A brilliant red glow lit up the sky above my northern Arizona home. It was the aurora borealis, the northern lights. This display was seen as far south as Mexico. I'm just glad my friend Brent called to let me know about it. Otherwise, I would have slept through one of the most incredible celestial sights I've known.

March 30-31, 2001

Click on the thumbnails below to see the full sized images.

Aurora photo #1
Aurora over the San Francisco peaks
Aurora photo #2
Fire in the Sky
Aurora photo #3
Ripples in the Flames
Aurora photo #4
Green Bars in Red Sheets

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Revised: October 31, 2003 [WDF]