One of the largest large coronal mass ejections (CME) or solar flares ever recorded struck the Earth's magnetosphere on October 29, 2003. It was blasted into space from the giant sunspot 486. The CME caused an extreme geomagnetic storm with very bright and intense aurora. Northern lights or aurora borealis are rare in middle or southern latitudes unless there is a strong disturbance in the magnetosphere. Auroras were observed as far south as Florida, New Mexico and Texas during the event. The northern lights were visible during the morning of October 29th, unfortunately, the East Coast was covered with clouds and rain. Luckily, the storm continued through the day as the skies cleared. The best aurora was visible soon after dark on October 29.
I watched the most amazing display of aurora. There was a whitish arc close to the northern horizon about 50-60 degrees in diameter. This arc slowly moved and changed shape. Areas of red would appear at each end. At times, the whitish arc was uniform. Other times, columns and pillars formed and vanished within the arc. For a while, there were two arcs. The glowing red expanded and was occasionally above the entire arc of whitish light. The veils of white and red shimmered and glowed. The maximal intensity was from about 6:30 to 7:30PM. Although the northern lights appear brighter on the above photos, these images barely show the beautiful translucent color and movement visible that night over the Virginia countryside.
The above photos were taken in Powhatan County, Virginia about 35 miles west of Richmond along State Road 629. I parked by Muddy Creek Baptist Church. The view is toward the north. I used an old Nikon FG with a tripod, cable release and a zoom at 28mm (f3.5). I had Fujicolor Superia ASA 800. I'm not sure about exposure times. I bracketed from 10 to 30 seconds. I think the best exposures were from 15 to 25 seconds.
See Space Weather for updates on solar flares, comets and other space phenomena. For updated auroral activity every five minutes, go to the STD Aurora Monitor .
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