Is the aurora visible?

07 Nov 2004

  • Elizabeth Warner -- While I wasn't exactly in College Park at the time, I'm sure that we would have seen something as I have gotten in reports from others in the region. What I saw... My husband and I were driving home from Newport News, VA (I-64 to I-295 to I-95). Shortly after getting onto 295, I noticed a very strange glow low in the north. The sky was clear, I could see the Big Dipper low along the horizon and the glow was in front of it. My first thought that this was from some town, but there was no town big enough nearby and the color was off. At one point, it became a very obvious green and had curtain shimmers in it. At this point (about 7:25pm) I was sure that we were seeing the aurorae. I managed to call Dr. Wellnitz on the cellphone and he (later) confirmed seeing aurorae from his site in MD. By this point, my husband was pretty tired from driving, so we pulled over and switched at a gas station. When we pulled back on the highway (where it was darker), the display seemed to have faded, but it was difficult to see because of the oncoming traffic (headlights) and the need to pay attention to the road! About 20 minutes later (7:50pm), I noticed the glow getting stronger, so I woke my husband. About then, we were on a section of highway with trees in the median (blocking the headlights) and we also came over a rise and we could clearly see an arc of green going from the NW to NE with the highpoint of the arc only about 20 degrees off of the horizon. In the NE and NW, there appeared to be reddish pillars, but I couldn't get a close look (too far off to the side and I had to watch the road!). The arc broadened and faded and then we were approaching Fredericksburg and then DC and the city lights became overwhelming.
  • Tom W. -- Aurora borealis was very evident in Temple Hills last night because shortwave radio signals received on my ham equipment had the distinctive flutter and echo characteristics whenever this happens.
  • Amy S. -- Apparently the aurora were visible here in Kentucky last night, too, though I wasn't out to see them. They showed some impressive pics on the news this morning!

30 Oct 2003

  • Elizabeth Warner -- [This text was sent to along with some pics] Ohmigosh! What an evening! Had a gut feeling that tonight would be great so I headed over to the campus observatory about 6pm (Univ. of Maryland Astronomy Observatory, just inside I-495 aka the Beltway). It was still dusk of course, but the north was purplish. One of my assistants and another professor were already there just setting up scopes, but I dragged them out and they concurred that the aurora was visible. (We also saw some last night 29 Oct between 7:50-8pm). As the evening progressed the show got better. I've attached 3 pics from the most spectacular display (very intense red), but later on we saw the aurora extend pretty far south with a few green swirls overhead and south of the zenith. In fact, we thought it was getting foggy at first until we realized how the coloration was changing! At one point, I could've pointed the camera pretty much anywhere in the sky and have gotten the aurora! The most spectacular displays were between 6:30ish and 7:45, but there was pretty much a dim red glow to the north all the way until 8:45pm (when I left to come back to my office to download and send pics to you!) and probably still is but I can't see it here on the main part of campus with all of the building lights.

    These images were taken with a Canon D30 camera with a 28-135mm lens set at 28mm, about 10 sec exposures in raw mode. (I also took some pics with slide film but those will have to wait until tomorrow!) I talked to my dad in Murfreesboro, TN, and he also saw the displays as well as to a friend in SC (cell phones are great!). Another friend headed out to Haymarket (?) and will hopefully be sending in some pics as well!

29 Oct 2003

  • Elizabeth Warner -- My funny story... Was at the observatory helping a group of students out on their satellite observing project. After they finished and left about 7pm, I started to do some imaging just to practice with the equipment, etc. Meanwhile a lab class was arriving over at the lecture hall. Then I hear kids voices so I go out and there's a guy walking up with his 2 kids. We get that alot -- people coming in to the Observatory if they see the gate open... we usually close the gate behind us for safety reasons... Well, I was going through my spiel (we're not open to the public tonight, you'll need to leave; these TAs are paid to teach their lab, not give tours, etc...) walking them back to the car when I look to the north... Now I've been staring at a computer screen with the red light setting so my vision is kinda screwy but there was something odd about the north. I asked the guy, he didn't notice anything at first, but then the display started to brighten a little, at least become more obvious. I went in to the lecture hall and hollered for that lab to come out, went and grabbed Dr. Wellnitz who was working on the 20" telescope, and grabbed my camera. So it was kind of bad because I was telling the guy that the likelihood of us seeing anything from the Observatory would be very small and then we see the aurora! As soon as I get my slides back and scanned, I'll try to post something here.