Wow - What a Display!

October 28, 2001
Photographs taken between midnight and 5:45 a.m.

Sunday evening, October 28

I understand that when you switch from daylight savings time - as occurred this morning - that the clocks should be moved back one hour - and that you (should) get an extra hour of sleep.

HA! I proved that theory wrong.

I lost a lot of sleep last night! And I have the pictures to prove it.

But first for the story - I got up early on Saturday morning to see if energy from the X-class solar flare had hit the earth's magnetosphere. A look at the computer, and a drive to the farm resulted in a big no. I wanted to be sure - as in the past, some solar flares have hit earlier than predicted. And besides, it was the weekend, and if I lost some sleep from getting up early, no big deal.

Zodiacal light on the morning of October 27, 2001.

However, I didn't waste my time driving to the farm in the early morning. I saw the zodiacal light - very easy to pick out yet in the fall morning. Luckily, I don't live in an area that has much light pollution. I also saw Venus and mercury coming very close together in the southeast sky. However, I didn't take any photos as there were too many clouds.

Anyway, I drove back to Bismarck that morning. Later that afternoon, I reviewed the forecasts. The energy from this solar flare was scheduled to arrive late in the UTC day (prior to 7 p.m. Saturday evening) or early in the next UTC day (after 7 p.m. Saturday evening).

At about 8 p.m., I drove to the farm. Just prior to leaving, I checked the computer, and nothing was happening. So the disturbance - if it hit - would arrive early in the UTC day of October 28 (hopefully).

The only disadvantage about going to the farm, was that I was without my computer and so could not check every so often to see if the disturbance had hit the earth. Thus, I would have to get up about every 45 minutes to look out the north window to see if the show had arrived.

My thoughts then turned to the watch that had been posted for Wednesday evening of this past week. When the energy from that flare had hit the earth, it turned out to be a dud. I sure would hate to lose some sleep this evening for another dud.

Upon arriving at the farm, I drove out to a location about one mile west of the farm. On a one-half mile stretch, I drove through slush. It was kind of fun watching it spray up and to the sides when driving fast through it. Guess I'll have to wash my vehicle sometime this week.

On the way - wow - I saw a bright green meteor fall from the sky to the south. What an awesome sight.

The top photo is the skyline of Washburn (with the Coal Creek Station - a 
lignite-based power plant to the left), and the bottom photo is the skyline of Wilton. 

I got to my location, and took some time exposures of the lights of Bismarck, Mandan, Wilton and Washburn. I also took some landscape photographs, taking advantage of the bright moonlight. In addition, I pointed the camera to the north and northeast and took some photographs to see if any faint aurora was present.

The bright moon lights up the foreground, with the big dipper in the background.

Not seeing any activity, I went to bed. I did get up on occasion to check for any activity - which is probably a more accurate way to know if the northern lights are out than looking at various web sites on the computer (although the computer can eliminate a lot of guesswork when you can't see the lights - in most instances - from the city).

(This I didn't know - at about 10:15 p.m., energy from the X-class solar flare had hit the earth's magnetosphere).

A couple of times prior to midnight, I got up and looked out the north window. I thought I could see an arc from the northwest extending to the east. But it was so hard to tell if I was seeing things because of my wish of seeing the northern lights. The bright moonlight also made it difficult to tell if that glow was the northern lights.

Finally sometime after midnight (I wish I kept notes so I could have a better recall), I got up and saw an arc glowing to the north, or so I thought I did. I decided to lose some sleep and go outside and get a better view.

Upon my first glance, I could see the arc. It was clearly the northern lights, but a week display. Was this activity from a coronal hole, or did the predicted X-class solar flare from the disturbance hit, and if so, how strong was it? Hard to know without a computer.

I looked again at the arc. It went from the northwest, and extended all the way to the eastern horizon where there was a bright glow.

I drove up to a hilltop where the windmill stood. I took some photographs, and soon saw some activity - there were rays forming to the east where the bright glow was. This picked up my optimism because I could see structure despite the bright moonlight.

Then all of a sudden, the arc that was glowing to the north got higher in the sky, about 80 degrees, and the show started. I forget exactly what happened, but soon there was a red glow to the east, and also to the northwest. Connecting those areas was a bright white "streamer" that went directly overhead - from northwest to east.

All of a sudden, the "streamer" overhead, and rays to the east, started pulsating - appearing and disappearing in a matter of seconds. Words can't describe the scene. It was unbelievable.

I took a number of photos of the activity, which started to slow down some around 2 p.m. At this time, I also took note of some clouds moving in from the west, and so I thought the show would be over.

The weather certainly didn't force me in as it was quite comfortable for late October. I didn't have to wear gloves - just a cap. Any other year and this might be a different story.

I went back to sleep about 2:30 a.m., and woke up at about 4:45 a.m. The moon had set. I then looked out the north window, and wow, there was red again in the sky, along with intense activity. I quickly got up and took a number of photos.

At this time, the corona was forming overhead, showing structure. I took a number of photos of the corona. At times, I could see a rich "blood" red color directly overhead in the corona. I drove one-half mile west, and all of a sudden, the northern lights surrounded me - on all sides. The corona was overhead, but to the south some. I wish I had a fish-eye lens as the view was an experience to not forget.

At 5:45 a.m., clouds started moving in, and the activity was slowing down, and so I went back to sleep. I was hoping to take photographs of Mercury and Venus (possibly with the northern lights), but I slept too late, and besides, I think the clouds would have covered up the show.

I finally drove back to Bismarck that morning. My only disappointment was that I wouldn't be able to process my photographs until Monday (sometimes it can be hard to be patient). I'm wondering what colors I will be able to see in the photographs - I know that when the moon is shining brightly, some of the rays can have a purple color towards the top. Time will tell as I will probably have them posted by Monday evening - and hopefully early in the evening so I can get caught up on my sleep and maybe even gain back that extra hour that I was promised on Saturday night / Sunday morning.


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