Northern Lights Flare of 7 May 2016

The strongest solar storm so far of 2016 hit us Saturday night at 10:48pm and again between 2 to 3am (according to our college meteor camera). The clear starry East Kootenay sky lit up with glowing curtains and spikes that reached a third of the way up from the Northern horizon.

Our meteor cam has some nifty video on it. And I zipped out of town and took some photos. I missed the best at 11pm, but got some shots at 11:45. But I packed up at 1:50 am, too soon. According to the meteor cam, if I had waited until 2:10 I would have got the big proton arc spiral. Later it died down to a green glow to the North that lasted all night. It was as bright outside as though the Moon was up.

Yet just before 2am, the whole North half of the sky was pulsating; with dim patches travelling from North to South, at about 2 cycles per second, like sheet lightning (I was getting a sore neck watching this over Ft. Steele, 15 km out of Cranbrook). Some kind of oscillation involving the trapped charge bouncing back and forth in the ionosphere, at right angles to the Earth’s magnetic field, creating waves of its own local magnetic field. Anyhow, at 2:10 the build-up must have discharged in a nice arc.


Shot from Ft. Steele hill, facing Northeast over Lakit Mountain. The W of the constellation Cassiopeia (Queen of Ethiopia) just above. Rippling, but just greens, no reds or blues. Photos taken with a Nikon and a 28mm f/2.5 lens, with 6 to 15 second exposures.


Looking at the Western edge of the glowing cloud, groups of spikes. Perseus in background. Pale traces of a narrow vertical streamer west of that.


Even Fisher Peak to the East was backlit by rippling bands.


Pine trees and the Steeples silhouetted from Eager Hill outside of Cranbrook.

7 May 2016: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a 48 hour magnetic storm watch indicating a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) or a high speed solar wind stream emanating from the Sun may be heading towards Earth. These fast moving charged particles can cause a Northern Lights display.

The current Geomagnetic Activity level (Kp number) is 5.33 — STORM LEVEL, peaking over the Northern BC and Alberta border.


Fernie had it even better, since they saw blues as well. Facing North from Fernie BC, Cassiopeia above. Sent by Sasha Prystae of Kimberley.

Electrons cause most of the glow. The dim red glow at the top of the curtain occurs above 200 km, when fast moving electrons hit low-pressure oxygen atoms in the atmosphere. The middle green is from glowing oxygen molecules between 100 and 200 km. Below 100 km, nitrogen atoms will glow a dim purplish colour and blue. Below that, the air pressure is too high and no effect is seen. NorthernLights_Vancouver_ProtonArc_Vanexusphotography_7May2016.JPG

This is a brief spiraling proton arc pillar hitting the Pacific Ocean North of Vancouver in Porteau Cove Provincial Park taken by Karina and Amir around 11pm Saturday, and another at 2am. Wow. See for a video of that.

Those vertical spiraling curtains are likely ionized oxygen atoms corkscrewing down around the Earth’s magnetic field lines.

This was the strongest flare of 2016 so far. Reportedly, as the Earth moved in its orbit, it crossed a wrinkle in the Sun’s magnetic field, where it reversed polarity briefly. This briefly buffeted the Earth’s protective magnetic field, which let in a gust of protons and electrons.

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