A tremendous start to the aurora season

a tremendous start

A tremendous start to the aurora season. Grand solar minimum? No aurora? The headlines couldn’t be more wrong! We are off to such an incredible start for the aurora season.

Our very own star, the Sun, is responsible for sending us particles, which in turn create aurora on Earth. We are at a point of its eleven-year cycle where the solar activity is extremely low (called solar minimum).

solar cycle

Solar cycle showing solar minima and maxima

 

As a consequence, many people in the aurora community, including forecasters, media channels or even professional chasers themselves often jump to conclusions that chasing the aurora is pointless at this time. According to some, we need to wait some years for the activity to pick up again and see the aurora. Well, that is quite far from the truth.

incredible display

September 27th incredible display

 

At lower latitudes this might be true as the number of big solar storms pushing the aurora further south is indeed very low (averaged around 1.5 per month). However for high latitudes, it is actually the opposite.

enjoying the lights

Some of our guests enjoying a moderate display from our hot tub

 

Believe it or not, when the solar and thus the auroral activity are plummeting, the lights tend to remain constrained within a thin auroral oval. Moreover lots of polar viewing places like northern Canada, Iceland, Northern Sweden, Alaska, Siberia, Northern Finland and Norway cross path with this zone.

aurora constrained

Figure showing where the aurora remains constrained

 

The aurora not only remains in Polar Regions but get this- it also happens without much solar input! Indeed as the Sun sprinkles the Earth with a constant background solar wind, the magnetic field of the latter still gets charged of particles and has to re-arrange all the time, channeling those particles towards polar region. This process is inevitable and even during solar minimum with no major solar event, high latitude get daily aurora shows!

high geomagnetic latitude aurora

We are now about 60 days into the 2019-2020 aurora season at the Aurora Borealis Observatory, and despite a September month ruled by clouds and rain, we managed to see the aurora a staggering 45 days!

a tremendous start

One of the 10 bright and colorful displays this season so far (October 12th)

Thanks to the microclimate of East Senja, totally overcast skies tend to clear up at some point of the night and let us peak at the aurora. Although most of the aurora shows that we get might not be the brightest or the most colorful to naked eyes, we still managed to get about 10 incredibly bright and colorful displays.

a tremendous start

For this display, we actually hadn’t seen a much brighter and pinker display in months! (October 7th 2019)

 

The most memorable until now was the September 27th night. Solar minimum? Think again! This rather small solar storm (G1-G2 minor storm) still gave us one of the most memorable spectacles in the observatory’s history. Some of the best violent storms actually happen during solar minimum.

september 27th

September 27th incredible display

 

The way this one started was very evocative. As soon as it gets dark, we knew we were in for a special night. Already at 6pm, as the sky was still very bright, the aurora exploded over our heads for an early show. Usually the sky takes some hours to give another show, but the aurora just kept on displaying its dancing pillars all over the sky.

aurora over the lake

September 27th incredible display

 

All our guests got such an amazing experience and will never forget that night. After guiding them for 4 hours straight, our own professional astrophotographer Adrien drove to the nearest body of water and captured some insane pictures of the aurora reflecting into the still water. The aurora gave 8 consecutive coronal shows that night, which is quite unusual for a minor storm. The start of October was also equally as awesome. The rain just suddenly stopped and cleared the sky for about two weeks in a row. Even with the full moon in the sky and the first frost coming in, we were treated to great background aurora shows with moderate substorm activity almost every day.

october 3rd

October 3rd bright display

 

Now the clouds and the snow have made their comeback on the island, but in the last four days, we managed to see the aurora three times regardless of the 100% cloud cover forecast! All of this leads us to believe that we are in for an excellent season again, as the end of October also promises the return of two moderate geomagnetic storms! Keep in tune as we constantly share the photos from those magical nights on our social media handles.

a tremendous start

October 11th bright display

 

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