onsdag 16 februari 2011

Auroras and Sunspots

Lately, the activity of the sun has increased dramatically, and as a result, spectacular auroras have been seen around the Arctic circle. Tonight, the solar wind hit the upper atmosphere of the Earth, and despite an almost full Moon that drowned out some of the lights, brilliant auroras could be seen dancing over the winter landscape.

Since the aurora activity is very strongly coupled to the activity on the Sun, I wanted to try to see if I could image our closest star, with only my small pocket camera at hand, and indeed, several large sunspots could be seen.

The big sunspot (called 1158) poses a 20% threat for Earth-directed X-flares according to experts (a flare being an explosion on the Sun happening when energy stored in twisted magnetic fields (i.e. usually above sunspots) is suddenly released. The "X" stands for the highest category in the scale of solar flares, meaning a major event that may trigger long-lasting radiation storms. Indeed, the X-flare from sunspot 1158 has unleashed the strongest solar flare in 4 years, so anyone interested in northern lights should be alert for more auroras in the nights to come, as a coronal mass ejection (CME) seems to be on its way to Earth.

Solar cycle 24 is starting to get really interesting and hopefully February/March will be full of northern lights!

I also want to add the warning that cannot be repeated to often: NEVER EVER look at the Sun without proper protection - DO NOT look at the Sun with your naked eyes and not through any kind of optical instrument. Looking at the Sun will damage your eyes permanently.

Large sunspots can now be seen on the Sun

Tonight strong green bands added to the beauty of the moonlit landscape

Note the long shadows in the snow by the almost full Moon

söndag 13 februari 2011

Beautiful colours from Russia

Pine Grosbeaks (Pinicola enucleator) normally inhabit northern coniferous forests, being mostly a permanent resident. When food sources are scarce, they may however, be seen far away from their normal distribution in what is known as an irruption. After a good breeding season in the forests followed by a food source failure in the russian taiga, many birds may migrate far away from their normal range. This winter, food sources were good in Northern Norway with lots of rowan-berries (attracting large numbers of waxwings and thrushes), and this made many pine grosbeaks appear as far away from their normal range. Here are some images of a beautiful red male feeding on the male flowers of a spruce on Kvaløya on the outer coast of Northern Norway.