Saturday, May 11, 2024

A Stunning Night: The Aurora Borealis from Central California

It has been a stunning night. I never believed the auroras would make it into Central California, and most of the predictions suggested it wouldn't. But then reports started pouring in; sightings in South Carolina, northwest Florida, Houston, and then Death Valley. I had to give it a chance. Mrs. Geotripper and I hopped in the car and headed out to the California Prairie south of Knights Ferry.
As we pulled up at the small stock pond on Willms Road, it didn't look like much was going on. I convinced myself that there was a bit of a red glow in the sky, and I started taking pictures with my phone (my regular camera turned out to be useless for once). On the screen it wasn't obvious, but there was indeed some color. 
I would have been satisfied with that, as I have seen the aurora only twice before. The first time was from within the Grand Canyon on my very first geology field studies trip in 1975. It was just a glow in the sky then, and we thought it was light pollution from Las Vegas or St. George, but it turned from red to green. We were awestruck, but there was no structure to be seen. The other time was in the late 1990s when we were in Montana on a mostly rainy night, but for a short moment a filament appeared through the clouds. And that was that.
Having so little experience with the phenomena, I simply didn't know what to expect, but we were becoming aware that the lights were changing as we watched. Spires came and went, and the glow moved to different parts of the sky. The colors were changing as well.
We watched until midnight when the cold breeze and lack of facilities forced us to start the drive home, but as we went around each bend, we couldn't resist stopping a moment to see what changed.
The changes were many. More and more green was showing near the horizon, and blue or purple appeared off to the west.

Needless to say maybe, but it was an astounding thing to see. I should note that while I have not modified the pictures (especially the saturation), the phone camera did see more vivid color than I did. I was using the night shot setting, so it was collecting light for two or three seconds, so the pictures are more colorful. But even so, it was easy to understand why the ancients thought these lights emanated from the gods.
We have our own mythology about these strange lights in the sky. They are the magnetic force shields protecting us from deadly emanations from the sun. Without our magnetic field, life on Earth might never have appeared, and we continue to thrive as long as the field continues.
After studying the Earth and the cosmos for more than forty years, I still can be impressed by the incredible processes that operate on and around our planet. What a privilege to live in and understand our world.

The storm is expected to continue through the weekend. I encourage you to find a dark place and check it out, but if that isn't possible, I hope this gives you an idea of what it was like!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your aurora adventures.
I've seen tourmaline crystals with the same color palette as the skies in some of your pictures.

Anonymous said...

I visited Idylwild for the first time Saturday with hopes of a glimpse, but apparently it was a one night show. Still interesting, once-in-a lifetime event for SoCal.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Garry. Beautiful!