As you read this, a blast wave of trillions of energetic particles is bearing down on us, with impact expected in just 20 to 40 hours (October 30 and 31). The resulting auroras will fill the skies in many Northern areas with shimmering green, red and blue. If you’ve never seen auroras, this could be your chance! Ready for Samhain auroras? We are starting to see more solar activity as we enter Solar Cycle #25, but this is an unexpectedly large blast. Back in 2003 It there were incredible auroras right on Samhain due to an even larger solar flare, and it looks like we again will be blessed with Samhain auroras!
It’s virtually certain that at least some places will get auroras in the next few days. If you can see clear, dark skies at a latitude above around 45 degrees, consider going out. You can also sign up for getting a free, immediate email notification if auroras appear near you. There are plenty of details (and caveats) below – but that’s all you need to know to see them. I’ve seen incredible auroras twice, and pretty darn cool auroras probably a dozen times. I won’t take the time now to describe all of them, but the shimmering, waving sheets and streamers across the sky are transformative. Update – While the impact was not as strong as it could have been, we did get our Samhain auroras! Here are some pictures.
Where to start? First of all, we can’t know for sure what will happen – only what the probabilities are. In our year, auroras are a little more likely near two of our Sabbats – the Equinoxes. The reason for this is complex. However, the biggest factor is the 11 year solar cycle, when solar flares are more likely. Solar flares very often lead to auroras, and this scales with the strength of the flare (assuming it is aimed at our planet, which this one is). The many different stages/parts of the blast are complex, but they produce a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), which races outward at millions of miles an hour, and consists of many different types of energetic particles that take different lengths of time to get here. We can see the blast in regular light, which takes only 8 minutes to get here, but most of the effects take anywhere from 1 to 3 days (because our Sun is 93 million miles away), and sometimes contain enough dispersed material (sometimes augmented by additional explosions) to last several days. When these energetic particles slam into the earth, they are mostly deflected by the magetnosphere, and reach farther toward the Earth’s surface along the magnetic poles, where the magnetic field lines are vertical instead of being horizontal. There’s more to it, but this is the basic reason why we get Northern lights (Aurora Borealis) and Southern lights (Aurora Australis).
Check out these forecasts for North America, and for Europe! Auroras could be visible on the horizon to the dark green line, meaning that these Samhain auroras may be visible from places as far South as parts of Georgia!
In addition to simply getting outside at night (and/or using the free, automatic notification linked to above), you can also check the auroral activity using the auroral oval map at spaceweather.com, and reading the updates there. Also, the map for the Southern hemisphere can also be seen at spaceweather.com, just click on “New Zealand”.
If this one fizzles, or if you aren’t in a good area for viewing, or clouds intervene (as they likely will here in Michigan), the graph above suggests that a flares as powerful as this will likely come again by 2025, when the next solar cycle (#25) is likely to peak. Either way, I hope you get to experience this wonderful part of our Earth (and Universe!) centered spirituality – and, if possible, to share it with kids, who will build the world of tomorrow.
The Author: Jon Cleland Host
Starstuff, Contemplating: We are assemblages of ancient atoms forged in stars – atoms organized by history to the point of consciousness, now able to contemplate this sacred Universe of which we are a tiny, but wondrous, part.
Dr. Jon Cleland Host is a scientist who earned his PhD in materials science at Northwestern University & has conducted research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997. He holds eight patents and has authored over three dozen internal scientific papers and eleven papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the journal Nature. He has taught classes on biology, math, chemistry, physics and general science at Delta College and Saginaw Valley State University. Jon grew up near Pontiac, and has been building a reality-based spirituality for over 30 years, first as a Catholic and now as a Unitarian Universalist, including collaborating with Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow to spread the awe and wonder of the Great Story of our Universe (see www.thegreatstory.org, and the blog at evolutionarytimes.org). Jon and his wife have four sons, whom they embrace within a Universe-centered, Pagan, family spirituality. He currently moderates the yahoo group Naturalistic Paganism.