One evening long ago I noticed something peculiar. Looking up from the back stoop of my college apartment, I saw the city lights warm glow reflected in the cloud cover. A moment latter two facts came to mind. One, Im in Fairbanks, Alaska and the brightest ‘city’ lights are the ‘international’ airport and Fred Myers. Two, there were no clouds. This was not the Aurora I had seen countless times this was a diffuse blood red glow that filled the sky. It was the deep red I usually see at the bottom of a highly active aurora, associated with strong geomagnetic storms where electrons are accelerated to speeds that allow them to penetrate down to the region of our atmosphere where diatomic oxygen persists and the molecular transitions excited by collisions with fast moving electrons give a distinct red color. It was a rare event to be sure. I darted back into my apartment excitedly and informed my roommates of the remarkable phenomenon taking place. However, each of them seemed to possess a recessive allele that allows one to become complacent with remarkable events and as such they were less then interested. I do hope this blog reaches those of you whose childhood awe has become a defining adult character feature rather than a phase of early life.
The future of this blog is still in question. The plan for the future is to interview researches around the University of Washington and to describe what they are doing.
Some Auroral info:
Very intense aurora from high energy electrons can be as low as 80 km (50 miles). The top of the visible aurora peters out at about 2-300 km (120-200 miles), but sometimes high altitude aurora can be seen as high as 600 km (350 miles). This is about the altitude at which the space shuttle usually flies.
(Image credit: Doug Wheelock, NASA, ISS, 100821spaceweather.com)