Since last summer, I've been keeping my eye on the AuroraWatch website, a venture by the University of Alberta to monitor Edmonton's geomagnetic activity and generate a real-time probability of witnessing an aurora. When the probability reaches 50%, a yellow email alert is issued; at 70%, a red alert is sent out.
Earlier this week yellow and red alert emails were arriving nightly, the media was abuzz about a solar storm, and brilliant aurora borealis photos were popping up on Twitter and Instagram. On Tuesday evening, after reading on Twitter that they were visible within the city and even seeing a band of green on the university's north-facing webcam, I decided to take my chances and head to darker skies.
|a mysterious green band on the U of A EAS webcam -- and bonus: green High Level Bridge for St. Patrick's Day|
The whole drive out of the city I'd been glimpsing northward, looking for any sign of light in the sky. Seeing nothing, my hopes were beginning to fall.
It was impressively dark in the countryside though, despite just being a few kilometres beyond city limits. Looking westward I could see the glow of Edmonton.
|talk about light pollution|
Looking north I could see what appeared to be a low-lying cloud, stretched across the sky from west to east. Low and behold, it was the emerging aurora borealis. (Please excuse my awful point-and-shoot photography -- plus, my camera battery was drained within the first few minutes!)
As I watched, the cloud lengthened and shortened and became a faint green colour. At times portions of it turned ninety degrees, like rotated vertical window blinds, and areas took turns lighting up brighter than the rest.
Though they were faint and only very light green, the lights had me mesmerized for over an hour. As I watched, they became continuously more impressive, at one point dividing into three parallel curtains, one high overhead with the others closer to the horizon. What struck me most was how dynamic the light was, changing constantly.
On that relatively warm night, watching this magical light show accompanied by a distant chorus of coyote howls from the surrounding fields, it took the realization that I'd have to be up at 4:15 am to tear me away.
On the drive back I snuck a couple last glances at the glowing northern sky before I was back in the city and any sign of the aurora had disappeared. Driving past St. Patrick's Day revellers leaving Whyte Avenue's bars, I realized how timely the green aurora borealis had been. I'm looking forward to their next appearance already!
|Here's a photo the talented Jeff Wallace captured this same night -- check out his Instagram @wherezjeff for more awesome aurora borealis shots!|
Have you seen the aurora borealis before?