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April 24, 2012 Auroras

Remer, MN

While at work, I noticed Bz dropping on the ACE spacecraft data, probably from a combination of CME effects and a corotating interaction region ahead of a high speed solar stream. That got my excitement level up for doing some aurora photography in the evening. The major problem with that was that it was cloudy in Grand Rapids. The good news is that clearing was not very far away-- only about 20 miles to my southwest. Thus, at sunset, I drove southwest from Grand Rapids on MN Highway 6 from Grand Rapids to Remer. My biggest question whenever I drive somewhere to escape the clouds how good of an auroral display will it be when I clear the clouds. Since I was driving to the south, and auroras are most frequently along the northern horizon at my latitude, I probably needed to get 20 miles south of the clearing line to have a good show. That meant getting about 20 miles south of Remer, where the clearing line was located. However, as soon as I got there, I looked up and saw this.

Nice Auroras
Aurora oval appearing out of the evening twilight, looking to the west.

The auroral oval was already present and NOT along the northern horizon like it usually is. It was directly overhead, illuminating a band from the western horizon to the eastern horizon! I decided to get out of town and find a location west on Highway 200 a few miles. Once on 200, I realized traffic was really, really light, and the southern edge of the oval was, for a moment, perfectly aligned with the road, so I stopped, set up tripod in the middle of the road, and snapped a few pictures.

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Looking due east on MN Highway 200.

I continued west until I found a nice side road to stop and take a time lapse sequence. It was an early spring this year, and the sound of the peeper frogs as I stepped out of the car was deafening. I could also hear the calls of a nearby barred owl. I snapped pictures in all directions with the 16-35mm f2.8 to capture the extend of the green in the sky. Even though there was only a new crescent moon, because of the illumination provided by the aurora, there was about the same lighting as would be provided by a nearly full moon. I then put on the f1.4 24mm lens to do a timelapse. I could use 2-second exposures at f1.4 ISO 1600.

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Looking east-northeast on MN Highway 200.
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Looking north across the highway.
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Looking northwest.
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Looking due south.
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Looking northeast again.

The clouds moved in to my shooting location, so I continued west until I got to Leech Lake. There, I snapped another time lapse sequence, hoping the clouds would clear, but they filled back in again, so I decided to call it a night. I drove home and took a time lapse sequence in the car as I drove up Highway 6 back home. I stopped near the Schoolcraft State Park turnoff to snap a picture of the aurora-illuminated clouds to my south.

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Leech Lake and the setting crescent new moon.
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Leech Lake at Whipholt, MN.
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Aurora-illuminated clouds.

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You can see here the magnetic field that preceeded the auroral display. Bz (the red line in the top panel) was around -15 nT for much of the day.

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