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June 6, 2016 Auroras

On the Mesabi Iron Range

I am going to call these the Mesabi Iron Range auroras because that's where I saw the best part of the show.  The recurrence of the Mother's Day geomagnetic storm was about a day late.  The sun rotates about every 27 days at its equator, and at 28 days, the corotating interaction region ahead of the coronal hole finally reached Earth, but it was too late to provide visible auroras before daylight, so we had to wait for the remaining, unsettled geomagnetic conditions in the coronal hole high speed stream.

We had those conditions, and Bz remained around -5 nT south while the solar wind speeds increased to 600 km/s.  These are generally pretty good conditions for auroras, particularly with the speed and Bz combination.  I was at Pokegama Lake and decided to try my luck there.  We had some rounds of rain showers and thunderstorms moving through, but I was hoping they would dissipate by sunset.  Around 8:30 PM, one round of showers moved through, followed by clearing.  Sky conditions were pretty good at sunset, but there was a long summer twilight ahead.

Oncoming Storm
An evening storm moves in at Pokegama Lake.
Passing storm
The storm moves across the lake.

Another extensive patch of clouds arrived in the latter stages of twilight, and just when I wanted to have a good view of the northern sky, it was almost completely covered in clouds.  The parts of the sky where auroras would be visible were clouded up.  The southern sky was completely clear.  That figures.  It was time to leave.

Nice Auroras
Maybe there's a hint of auroras on the horizon, but the clouds are moving in again.

I decided to call it quits for this location and move north to get these clouds more to my south. Interestingly, I could have just as easily moved south where there were no clouds at all, but it's mentally difficult to move farther away from something you're trying to photograph. On a good night of auroras, that can make the difference between pointing the camera straight up or staying on the northern horizon.  I saw an opportunity to go north toward a clearing in the clouds, and I took it.

As soon as I left Pokegama Lake, the auroras exploded in the northern sky.  I noticed this when I got to County Road 17, looked to the north and saw a bright patch of aurora in a small gap between the clouds, which was actually still pretty bright with twilight, so I knew it was a pretty intense aurora. I flung the tripod and camera out of the car to catch this bright patch, but in just seconds, it moved out of the gap, replaced by much dimmer auroras (visible in the picture below).

Nice Auroras
Auroras bursting out of the twilight between the clouds.

Once I snapped a couple shots, I headed for home because I needed to feed the cats first if I was going to be out until the early morning hours. When I arrived home, the gap in the clouds was over Grand Rapids, so I set up in the driveway for a few minutes while pondering where to go to have the best chance of escaping the clouds completely. My decision was to go northeast.

Nice Auroras
A lone column of auroras peeks above the clouds.

I hopped back in the car and drove out of town on 169. On this moonless night, I could see the clearing ahead of me by noting where the green glow terminated. Occasionally, it was tough to see the clearing line if the clouds were lit underneath, but the city lights (for now, while there are still a lot of sodium lamps around-- they will gradually change to white LED) have an orange hue, so it's possible to distinguish between underlit clouds and auroras. By the time I got to Nashwauk, the auroras were getting pretty bright. I had to find a place to pull over and take a few pictures.

Nice Auroras
A colorful substorm viewed from Highway 169.
Nice Auroras
The foreground is illuminated by a car.  The road does not look very smooth.
Nice Auroras
Multi-colored auroras on Highway 169 near Keewatin.

Satisfied with what I got, I continued to drive northeast and got through Hibbing before deciding I had gone east far enough, and it was time to drive north. I took Highway 73 out of Chisholm, but I circled back west on county roads and found a lake with a southern boat launch. Because there was a bit of bog between the road and the lake, there was some north visibility before the boat landing, so I snapped a few shots. The auroras had settled down a bit, but there were some diffuse spikes of pointing southward and overhead from the main activity to the north.

Nice Auroras
Gansey Lake.

I continued to the boat landing, which was nicely framed by the trees. I did not have long to shoot as another cluster of clouds moved in.

Nice Auroras
The canoe launch at Gansey Lake.

I decided to continue west on the gravel county roads and return to pavement on Highway 65.  There were a couple more lakes along the way, one of which I had not visited before, so I wanted to check it out.

Nice Auroras
County Road 81.
Nice Auroras
Weaker auroras and thicker clouds at Stingy Lake.

I also drove to Bower Lake because I was on the Bower Lake Forest Road, but the skies were now overcast, and I had already shot here before, so I just took a look and moved on. This took me back to Minnesota Highway 65. It was time to head for home as it was now past 2:00 AM. Twilight would soon be expanding into the sky from the northeast. Just before I got to Nashwauk, the auroras brightened again, so I stopped on top of the hill north of town and snapped a couple pictures. I also stopped at Snowball Lake on U.S. 169 on the way back home. I arrived home just after 3:00 AM.

Nice Auroras
A brightening north of Nashwauk.
Nice Auroras
Wayside rest at Snowball Lake.

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