Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Northern Lights Seen in Pittsburgh

This photograph of the Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, was taken by Pittsburgh-area Free-Lance Photographer Lynne S. Walsh. The photograph was taken using an Apple I-Phone 12-Mini camera, from the Pittsburgh suburb of Whitehall, Pennsylvania near the Caste Village Shopping Center. While the Aurora was quite evident using the camera, it was barely visible to the naked-eyes.

More Aurora Photographs from Friends of the Zeiss members Ms. Walsh and Jim McKee:

Link >>>

By Glenn A. Walsh

Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

Due to a major storm on the Earth's Sun, people in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area had a rare opportunity to see the Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, late on Friday night (2024 May 10). Pittsburgh is just 75 miles / 120.7 kilometers north of the Mason and Dixon Line, the traditional boundary between the North and the South sections of the United States, which was created with the assistance of astronomical observations.

A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) on the Sun, on May 10, sparked the largest Geomagnetic Storm on the Earth since Halloween of 2003. The Space Weather Prediction Center observed a G5 (greatest level of severity) extreme Geomagnetic Storm at 2:54 a.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time (EDT) / 6:54 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on Friday.

The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC - until 2007, known as the Space Environment Center - SEC), is a division of the National Weather Service (NWS) which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.

An X3.98 Solar Flare came from colossal-sized Sunspot AR3664 on the surface of the Sun. According to a Social Media post on 'X' / Twitter, solar physicist Keith Strong wrote that the X3.98 Solar Flare is the largest from Sunspot AR3664, as well as fourth largest Solar Flare during this Solar Cycle.

This-past weekend's solar activity comes as the Sun approaches Solar Maximum during the Sun's ~11-year Solar / Sunspot Cycle, also known as the Solar Magnetic Activity Cycle or Schwabe Cycle. At Solar Maximum, the Sun's magnetic field flips, with the North Magnetic Pole becoming the South Magnetic Pole and visa-versa. After a second ~11-year Solar Cycle, the magnetic field flips again returning to the original magnetic state; this, then, completes the ~22 year Hale Cycle.

Currently, we are in Solar Cycle 25, the 25th Solar Cycle since 1755, when scientists began extensive recording of Sunspots on our Sun. Solar Cycle 25 began in December of 2019 and is expected to continue until about 2030. Additional Aurora activity may be expected over the next couple of years, as the peak of Solar Cycle 25 is expected sometime next year (perhaps around 2025 July).

Most Solar Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections, as well as other solar phenomena such as Coronal Loops and Prominences, originate in magnetically-active, large and often visible Sunspot groupings on the surface of the Sun. Sunspots are temporary spots on the Sun's surface which appear darker (usually black or gray, against the Sun's bright surface), due to the fact that Sunspots are much cooler than the rest of the Sun's surface.

The surface of the Sun, known as the Solar Photosphere, measures about +10,000 degrees Fahrenheit / +5,500 degrees Celsius. Sunspots are usually about +6,300 degrees Fahrenheit / +3,500 degrees Celsius.

Sunspots are created due to the crossing of lines of magnetic force, as the many lines of the magnetic field well-up from deep within the Sun. This occurs due to the varied rotation rates of the plasma that makes-up the Sun. On average, the Sun rotates on its axis once every 27 days. However, since the Sun is not solid, the Solar Equator only takes only about 24 days to rotate once, while the Poles take more than 30 days.

Sunspots usually come in pairs. Sunspots consist of a central darker area (black), known as the Umbra, surrounded by a lighter area (gray) known as the Penumbra.

Many Sunspots are huge. Sunspot AR3664 is estimated to be about 15 times the size of the planet Earth. At Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium Observatory (1941 to 1994), using the historic 10-inch Siderostat-type Refractor Telescope, visitors could easily compare the size of a particular Sunspot with the size of the Earth; the Sun's surface would be projected from the telescope onto a large projection screen, which included an outline of the size of the planet Earth.

Astronomers have observed Star-spots, which are similar to our Sun's Sunspots, on some stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.

Solar activity such as Solar Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) can adversely affect radio communication [particularly long-distance (DX) High Frequency (HF) radio signals: Medium-Wave (AM band) and Short-Wave (SW)], satellites and GPS systems, and in severe cases can disrupt electrical grid systems.

Thus far, the current Geomagnetic Storm has resulted in temporary or complete loss of High Frequency radio signals across Asia, Eastern Europe, and eastern Africa; long-distance HF radio signals have also been affected in the United States. However, the U.S. Department of Energy has reported that the Geomagnetic Storm has had no impact on infrastructure that affects customers.

The 2003 October Geomagnetic Storm resulted in power outages in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa. In March of 1989, a Geomagnetic Storm caused power failures over large sections of the Canadian province of Quebec, while less severe storms occurred in 1921 and 1960 when there were widespread reports of radio disruptions.

However, the largest effects felt on Earth occurred, at the very beginning of the electrical age, in the first couple of days of September of 1859, when ground-based magnetometers recorded one of the largest Geomagnetic Storms ever. This is known as the "Carrington Event" for English Amateur Astronomer Richard Carrington, who made among the first observations of a major Solar Flare on September 1 that is associated with a huge CME that led to telegraph system failures, electric shocks to telegraph operators, and even fires in some telegraph offices. The Carrington Event also resulted in Aurora observations throughout the world, particularly in lower latitude locations unaccustomed to such displays.

In April of 2014, NASA announced that an event possibly similar to the Carrington Event may have missed the Earth in 2012. On 2012 July 23, NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft recorded a huge CME that sped four times faster from the Sun than a normal solar eruption. Fortunately, the Earth was not in the path of this CME, which Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado claimed "might have been stronger than the Carrington Event itself".

Friends of the Zeiss is a non-profit organization with a mission which supports public education of astronomy, space sciences, and other sciences. The organization also promotes the history and preservation of the historic equipment, artifacts, and building of Pittsburgh's original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science / Buhl Science Center.

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

ADDENDUM: Aurora Photographs from Friends of the Zeiss members Lynne S. Walsh and Jim McKee:

Link >>>

Aurora: Link >>>

Sunspot: Link >>>

Solar Flare: Link >>>

Coronal Mass Ejection (CME): Link >>>

Solar Cycle: Link >>>

Solar Cycle 25: Link >>>

Carrington Event: Link >>>

Related Blog-Posts ---

"250th Anniversary: Astronomy Helps Create Mason-Dixon Line." Wed. 2017 Oct. 18.

"Largest Sunspot in 24 Years Returns for 2nd Month." Sun., 2014 Nov. 23.

Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss     

               "Northern Lights Seen in Pittsburgh"

                  Wednesday, 2024 May 15.

            Artificial Intelligence not used in the writing or production of this article.

            © Copyright 2024 Glenn A. Walsh, All Rights Reserved

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Glenn A. Walsh, Informal Science Educator & Communicator                                                             (For more than 50 years! - Since Monday Morning, 1972 June 12):
Link >>>
Electronic Mail: < >
Project Director, Friends of the Zeiss: Link >>>
SpaceWatchtower Editor / Author: Link >>>
Formerly Astronomical Observatory Coordinator & Planetarium Lecturer, original Buhl Planetarium & Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center), America's fifth major planetarium and Pittsburgh's science & technology museum from 1939 to 1991.
Formerly Trustee, Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania, the fourth of only five libraries where both construction and endowment funded by famous industrialist & philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
* Buhl Planetarium, Pittsburgh: Link >>> Buhl Observatory: Link >>>
* Adler Planetarium, Chicago: Link >>>
* Astronomer, Educator, Optician John A. Brashear: Link >>>
* Andrew Carnegie & Carnegie Libraries: Link >>>

 * Other Walsh-Authored Blog & Web-Sites: Link >>>

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