Nature's spectacular light show ~ The Aurora Borealis of 2011

Have you ever seen the northern (or southern) lights? Auroras are part of a natural phenomenon that occurs at far northern and southern latitudes.

Many of us will be celebrating the New Year tonight and for many the skies will be filled with the beautiful and vibrant lights of firecrackers. These brilliant light displays are man-made and have been around for thousands of years. But Nature also has her own light shows that can be seen as even more beautiful.

In 2011 there were very intense aurora borealis (northern lights) due to the strongest solar activity in the last four years. Although the auroras are usually only seen in the Scandinavian countries, Canada and the northern United States, in October of this year they were seen as far south as Missouri and Arkansas. This rare occurance was caused by a Coronal Mass Ejection or a burst of solar wind.

The auroras tend to occur when "charged particles [from the sun] flow along Earth's magnetic field lines. The particles hit the atmosphere at the Poles and excite air molecules, which release the extra energy as light." ~ National Geographic.

Below are some beautiful photos of some of the aurora borealis from 2011. Enjoy them and a Happy New Year to All!

Aurora Over Greenland Image Credit: Copyright: Juan Carlos Casado
This aurora arched from horizon to horizon. During the current Shelios expedition to observe and learn about the northern lights, the sky last weekend did not disappoint. After sunset and some careful photographic planning, the above image was taken from the expedition's Qaleraliq campsite in southern Greenland. Visible straight through the center of the aurora, found with a careful eye, is the Big Dipper and the surrounding constellation of the Big Bear (Ursa Major). The brightest orb on the far right is the Moon, while Jupiter can be seen even further to the right. The Shelios expedition is scheduled to last until the end of August and include live broadcasts of ongoing auroras.

Cloudy Night of the Northern Lights Image Credit & Copyright: Fredrick Broms
On September 26, a large solar coronal mass ejection smacked into planet Earth's magnetosphere producing a severe geomagnetic storm and wide spread auroras. Captured here near local midnight from Kvaløya island outside Tromsø in northern Norway, the intense auroral glow was framed by parting rain clouds. Tinted orange, the clouds are also in silhouette as the tops of the colorful shimmering curtains of northern lights extend well over 100 kilometers above the ground. Though the auroral rays are parallel, perspective makes them appear to radiate from a vanishing point at the zenith. Near the bottom of the scene, an even more distant Pleiades star cluster and bright planet Jupiter shine on this cloudy northern night.

September's Aurora Image Credit & Copyright: Yuichi Takasaka
September's equinox arrives today at 0905 UT. As the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading south, spring begins in the southern hemisphere and autumn in the north. And though the seasonal connection is still puzzling, both spring and autumn bring an increase in geomagnetic storms. So as northern nights grow longer, the equinox also heralds the arrival of a good season for viewing aurora. Recorded earlier this month, these curtains of September's shimmering green light sprawl across a gorgeous night skyscape. In the foreground lies Hidden Lake Territorial Park near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. Calm water reflects the aurora, with bright star trails peering through the mesmerizing sky glow. Of course, shining at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so, planet Earth's auroras are visible from space.

Aurora Moonscape
The spring solstice full "super" moon ....with the aurora over Tuktoyaktuk harbour March 19th, 2011

Aurora Boreal- Photo: Francis Anderson

Photo: Billy Idle
Aurora borealis over Andøya

Aurora Borealis Over Howe Sound

October Skylights Image Credit & Copyright: Malcolm Park
As northern hemisphere nights grow longer, October is a good month for spotting auroras, or even other eerie apparitions after dark. And this week the night sky did not disappoint. On October 24th a solar coronal mass ejection impacted planet Earth's magnetosphere triggering far ranging auroral displays. On that night, this dramatic silhouette against deep red and beautiful green curtains of shimmering light was captured near Whitby, Ontario, Canada. But auroras were reported even farther south, in US states like Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma at latitudes rarely haunted by the northern lights. Well above 100 kilometers, at the highest altitudes infused by the auroral glow, the red color comes from the excitation of oxygen atoms.

aurora borealis - hotel ranga

Twin Pingo Aurora

Waterfall, Moonbow, and Aurora from Iceland Image Credit & Copyright: Stephane Vetter
The longer you look at this image, the more you see. Perhaps your eye is first drawn to the picturesque waterfall called Skogarfoss visible on the image right. Just as prevalent, however, in this Icelandic visual extravaganza, is the colorful arc of light on the left. This chromatic bow is not a rainbow, since the water drops did not originate in rainfall nor are they reflecting light from the Sun. Rather, the drops have drifted off from the waterfall and are now illuminated by the nearly full Moon. High above are the faint green streaks of aurora. The scene, captured one night last month, also shows a beautiful starscape far in the background, including the Big Dipper, part of the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

Auroral Substorm over Yellowknife Image Credit & Copyright: Kwon, O Chul

Explanation: Intense auroral activity flooded the night with shimmering colors on February 24, captured here from a lodge near the city of Yellowknife in northern Canada. The stunning sequence (left to right) of three all-sky exposures, taken at 30 second intervals, shows rapid changes in dancing curtains of northern lights against a starry background. What makes the northern lights dance? Measurements by NASA's fleet of THEMIS spacecraft indicate that these explosions of auroral activity are driven by sudden releases of energy in the Earth's magnetosphere called magnetic reconnection events. The reconnection events release energy when magnetic field lines snap like rubber bands, driving charged particles into the upper atmosphere. Stretching into space, these reconnection events occur in the magnetosphere on the Earth's night side at a distance about 1/3 of the way to the Moon.


Responses to "Best Aurora Pictures Of 2011"

  1. BEAUTIFUL Pictures!! My sister & me were lucky enough to experience this first hand while camping out one night when we were kids, an experience we'll NEVER forget!! We hope that someday our daughters can experience it too!!

  2. Lili Eianrsen says:

    These photos are so beautiful, Thankyou Whit Wolf for these. Lili xx

  3. Anonymous says:

    Never saw nothing like this before,thankyou so much White Wolf,just amazing.angie.

  4. Kallista says:

    These are stunning! Thank you so much for sharing this beauty!
    All the best for the new year!

  5. Anonymous says:

    *Spectacular* White Wolf ~ Thank you so much for sharing :)

  6. Anonymous says:

    thanks so much for sharing this ! I know it took time n hard work !

  7. Jane says:

    how wonderful to be able to capture these amazing visions of loveliness with technology invented by human beings for human beings. With all our wit and wisdom, surely, this is the kind of thing our cleverness should capture, not laying waste foreign soil for personal gain, oil, and dominion, using machines of dread and destruction! Thank you for these stunning images!

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