Observing Astronomical Events


Aurora

 
AuroraThe sun has been pretty quiet the last few years. It has been a very long minimum this solar cycle. Now the sun seems to be beginning to stir. Sun spots are increasing as are other kinds of activity.

As an example on August 1st, 2010, there was a major CME, an eruption in the sun's atmosphere. Hot solar plasma was sent flying on its way towards the Earth. This was indeed big news after so long without no activity. The TV, Radio and internet was abuzz about the possibility of aurora (or Northern Lights, as they are more commonly called). There were many predictions about them being seen even farther south than usual.

Guess what? It did not happen. At least not in the way that was predicted. So it goes sometimes.

If you see on the news or get an email about a major solar storm and they are prediction a solar storm of the century....

Will it happen?

We have no idea. No one does in fact. While many of the properties of the aurora are understood, we still don't know enough to make accurate predictions about its behavior. This may turn out to be more hype than anything real when it comes to the way it is presented in the media. You have to understand that often journalist, meteorologist and commentators don't have backgrounds in science. They either read verbatim a press release without checking its validity or just summarize a story, making a bad press release even worse. In this day of instant gratification and the short attention span most give these stores, many misconceptions and misrepresentations occur. It is easy for laymen to get confusing and misleading information.

So, if there is going to be aurora activity, how do you observe it? Should you come to Perkins? Well, no, again. We just are not suited for this either. Interestingly, the way to observe aurora is identical to observing meteors.

  1. Good weather - Hard to guarantee in central Ohio.
  2. Little or no Moon - It may look pretty up there, but it is really a big street light and will wash out most of the aurora as it is often too bright.
  3. Dark skies - Much darker than you can get at Perkins Observatory.
  4. An open field clear to the horizon - Trees block the sky. We have lots of trees at the observatory.
  5. Eyes -  You don't need a telescope as big as a corn silo to see aurora. Your eyes are really the best tool and only tool to see them.
  6. Comfortable chair - A reclining lawn chair works best. You may be out for hours until the wee-hours of the morning to enjoy this. Best to be comfortable.

Indeed, Perkins just does not meet most of these requirements either. That is why we also don't bother with aurora. Find yourself some dark skies away from the city. We will be elsewhere also.

Find out more about aurora here.

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