A Red Display of the Northern Lights

March 30-31, 2001

Week of March 25, 2001: The largest sunspot in 10+ years (9393) covers the sun. The potential for powerful X-class solar flares is high. Maybe I will get to see the northern lights this week. I take note that the moonlight will increase during the night this week - which can make it more difficult to see the northern lights.

2:50 p.m. CDT - Tuesday, March 27, 2001: I receive an e-mail from www.spacew.com. They have issued a Middle Latitude Auroral Activity Watch for Wednesday.

5:05 p.m. CDT - Thursday, March 29, 2001: I receive an e-mail from www.spacew.com. They have issued a Middle Latitude Auroral Activity Warning for Friday & Saturday nights. The potential is very good for northern lights this weekend. I'm excited. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is mostly cloudy for Friday night and partly cloudy for Saturday night.

6:00 - 6:45 p.m. CDT - Friday, March 30, 2001: In lurking on a chat site (www.space.com/irc) - I hear about a shock front approaching the earth. And surprisingly, the clouds are clearing out (the weather forecast is wrong - thank goodness!).

8:30 p.m. CDT - Friday, March 30, 2001: I check a couple of internet sites - the northern lights look to be very strong tonight. There are no clouds at Bismarck and for 200+ miles to the west and northwest. I drive 15 miles to dad's farm north of Bismarck to get away from city lights.

9:30 p.m. CDT - Friday, March 30, 2001: At the farm, I can see a diffuse glow (white) from the northwest to directly east, about 30 degrees above the horizon.

9:45 p.m. CDT - Friday, March 30, 2001: I notice one skinny long ray from 30 to 70 degrees. Upon closer examination, I notice that it has a reddish tint to it. It quickly goes away.

10:00 p.m. CDT - Friday, March 30, 2001: After looking at the diffuse glow to the east, I notice that it has a reddish tint. I take a number of photographs, knowing that the red colors will probably show up on a photograph. I go into the house for a few minutes.

10:15 p.m. CDT - Friday, March 30, 2001: I walk outside and - WOW! - above the diffuse glow are three distinct and separate areas of bright red rays from 30 to 70 degrees (the northwest, north, and directly east). This is awesome. I have only seen white or green aurora. I was skeptical of a red aurora (only because I had never seen one). Now that I see the red colors, I am amazed. I take photographs until 10:45 p.m., when the activity dies somewhat. However, the distinct area of red to the northwest shifts more to the west, and remains for a long time. It is very visible, even though the moon (west-north-west) is almost right next to it. There is now a corona overhead.

11:00 p.m. CDT - Friday, March 30, 2001: This is odd. The northern lights dim somewhat (there's still the red band to the northwest), but there is a diffuse glow about 30 degrees above the horizon - but to the SOUTH. The activity is quiet for awhile. I go inside the house to get some sleep - and get up periodically to see if there is activity - THEN.

12:15 a.m. - CDT - Saturday, March 31, 2001: I look out the south window of the house, and the whole top half of the sky is red, with a diffuse white/green glow under it. I hurry outside with my camera. As I drive 300 yards to a location to take photographs, I notice that the lights are moving rapidly north. There are diverse colors - red and light green to the south, and "electric" blue to the north. There's a lot of activity, with the lights changing very fast. Above me is the corona. I take a number of photographs, and am in awe of this. Northern lights 360 degrees around me, and with lots of color and activities. I fell like I'm on the football field at a stadium, and the northern lights are the spectators. Another analogy, the northern lights were like a bowl tipped upside down where I was standing. This is something that I have waited to see since I started taking photographs of the northern lights. Will I ever get to see it again? Probably. The activity starts to decrease in intensity - but the northern lights are still strong (later, I read that 12 to 3 a.m. CDT was probably the most active time).

1:30 a.m. - CDT - Saturday, March 31, 2001: I am tired and go to bed. I set my alarm for 4 a.m. (really, I incorrectly set it for 4 p.m.).

4:50 a.m. - CDT - Saturday, March 31, 2001: I wake up and look outside, and there are northern lights (light blue) directly west, and a corona overhead - lots of activity, movement and pulsating lights. I take some photographs. There is light in the east from the sun. I quit taking photographs at 5:15 a.m., and by 5:30 a.m., the sunlight takes over.  The photographs from this time reveal a lot more - very intense red aurora.

7:15 a.m. - CDT - Saturday, March 31, 2001: I drive to Bismarck, knowing that I had seen something very special.

8:00 a.m. - CDT - Saturday, March 31, 2001: According to the internet (spacew.com and spaceweather.com), the northern lights were seen as far south as California and Mexico. Awesome.

10:30 a.m. - CDT - Saturday, March 31, 2001: I have my photographs developed - the results are seen on this web site. The photography store is going to make some money enlarging a number of my photographs.

8:00 p.m. - CDT - Saturday, March 31, 2001: The activity doesn't look promising for tonight. I call my dad and tell him that I'm not coming out. I'm so tired from the previous evening's activities, that I'm going to bed early.

This photograph of a corona was taken at approximately 12:30 a.m. on March 31, 2001.  The lens was a 50 mm (1.4 aperature), thus, a limited view.  Obviously, the camera was pointed straight up in the air.  Note the distinct difference in colors.

Taken at approximately 4:50 a.m. on March 31, 2001.  Camera is pointed directly west.

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