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Northern lights may put on show in Northwest skies

SKY WATCHING — The solar activity that put on a light show in the northern skies of the Inland Northwest on Aug. 26 (above) are likely to put on a repeat performance for late night viewers from Seattle through Montana tonight and Saturday.

The Aurora borealis, or northern lights, are more typically seen in northwest Canada, Alaska and Scandinavia, but sun flares this week are expected to affect the magnetic poles, bringing the lights south, according to the NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Predicting the exact timing is difficult, but “the chances are really good” for Friday and Saturday nights, said Bob Rutledge of the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo.

The best viewing areas are far away from city lights.

The best time to view the lights is usually around midnight, but the weather, brightness of the moon and dusk and dawn times are also factors in determining the ideal time, according to the Geophysical Institute, which explains:

The sun produces mass ejections which interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, and when electric currents begin to flow in the upper atmosphere, the result is an Aurora borealis. The sun flares disrupt the magnetic field, providing conditions for the lights to be seen elsewhere.

Plan a campout for Perseid meteor showers

SKYWATCHING — Camping high in the mountains away from lights— perhaps in forest fire lookout rental — is a peak way to enjoy the free light show in the sky, which will peak this year between Aug. 10 and 13.

The annual Perseid meteor shower is gearing up.
This may not be the best year for viewing the Perseids because of bright moonlight and the smoke from wildfires in the region. But at peak levels the Perseids can produce a show of more than 50 meteors an hour to keep you up late.
Actually, sleep tight and get up early.  Astronomers say the best viewing is in the dark hours before dawn.
  • Some of the action will be washed out this year by a bright supermoon in the sky on the night of August 10 (morning of August 11). It’s not just any supermoon but the closest and brightest supermoon of 2014. According to NASA, this August 10 moon will be 30% brighter than most full moons of 2014.
Although the meteors appear to come from Perseus, they actually are part of a debris trail left by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which the Earth encounters every August.
See more info on the EarthSky website.

You’re not seeing things; tonight’s moon will be “super”

SKY WATCHING — The full moon tonight will appear to be unusually big.  It's called a “supermoon.

Will you brave a Friday 13th full moon?

SKY WATCHING — If you can get above the clouds, tonight may be a good night to stroll a mountain ridge without a headlamp in the shadowy light the full moon will be bathing on the landscape.

But remember, it's Friday the 13th.  A chilling thought.

“I know people who say that (it’s superstitious), but it’s just a thing that happens because of the moon and the calendar align, for me there’s nothing supernatural about it,” Jerry Eber, a Spokane Astronomical Society member, told S-R reporter Jody Lawrence-Turner. “The moon is up there all the time, it just happens to have more sun on it.”

The convergence of the astronomical and the astrological calendar is rare. The last time Friday the 13th coincided with a full moon was Oct. 13, 2000. The next time will be Aug. 13, 2049.

Tonight is only the 10th time since 1900.

Although there’s no concrete evidence, police have noticed odd things happen when there’s a full moon. A former Spokane County Sheriff’s sergeant once recounted to The Spokesman-Review some of those odd happenings: as a naked man on the side of the road offering free sex and a dead coyote stuffed into a mailbox were two.

Stayed up to see the meteor shower

Went outside multiple times but saw nothing.

How about you?

Hear sounds under night sky at Steamboat Rock

CAMPING — In case you've forgotten what it's like to camp out under the stars, Spokane photographer Craig Goodwin reminds us by devoting a sleepless night using his camera and recording night sounds at Steamboat Rock State Park.

On a recent night-photography outing I made a short audio recording of the amazing sounds the animals were making. I wanted to share the recording to give a sense of why these all-night shoots are so magical, so I added it to some of the pictures I took that night and created a short 1:30 video. Bonus points for anyone who can identify all the calls, cackles, and chirps. The most interesting sound is right near the end. The photos follow the sequence in which I took them. What's interesting to me is you can see how the tonal quality of the light changes from 1:00 a.m. (the first shot) to 4:00 a.m. (the last shot).

Blood moon compliments colors of Bryce Canyon

SKYWATCHING — In case the clouds —  or the need for sleep — obstructed your view of last night's lunar eclipse, here's the scene as seen in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Lunar eclipse good excuse to sleep out tonight

CAMPING — The “Blood Moon” will treat sky watchers who can stay up past 11 p.m. tonight.  The weather forecast indicates the viewing of the lunar eclipse will be good.

And if you have a warm sleeping bad, it might be a good night to doze off under the stars.

  • The bloody red color the moon takes on during an eclipse is caused by refraction of sunlight by the Earth's atmosphere.

Tonight will be the first in the rare sequence of four total lunar eclipses expected in the next two years.

See details of the eclipses, and their role in Christian lore, in this story by USA Today.

Yosemite’s Night Skies photography makes brilliant case about light pollution

WILD LANDS — A superb video with stunning images and videos of the night sky helps point out that wild lands such as national parks are rare places where people can get a great view of the stars and planets without being washed out by civilization's lights.

Enjoy this video with all its stars, moon rises, shooting stars, streaking satellites and people offering their insight on what's out there.

Perseid meteor shower delights area campers

SKY WATCHING — Other than a bit of lingering haze from the region's wildfires, the weekend provided picture perfect conditions for watching the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower.

I'm impressed at how many of my Facebook friends were out camping in wild places to get the most from the event. (See photo above by Blake Sommers/Outdoor Flip Photography, who was camped at Revett Lake near Thompson Pass at the Montana-Idaho Border — Hike 24 in 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest.)

The higher the elevation and the farther you are from city lights, the better the viewing.

When our kids were young, our family had a tradition of renting one of the area's fire lookouts or at least camping near one for the Perseid event. We'd roll out our sleeping pads on the lookout catwalk and watch the “shooting stars” until we faded away to sleep.

This year, near the Cabinet Mountains Widlerness, I was graced with a view of a meteor entering the earth's atmosphere with a streaming tail of orange that raced directly up the Clark Fork River. It was better than the Olympics closing ceremony.

Here are more photos of the Perseid Meteor Shower from Universe Today readers around the world.

Cleavage in the sky

Or perhaps you saw a Cezanne still life, the front of a 1949 Buick, balloon animals or a mountain view you remember from that summer when you hiked part of the Long Trail back East.

But any way you look at it, this has been an exceptional week for cloud watching in Spokane.

Sure, a lot of the formations have been so low you can't really call it 4-star conditions. But here in blue skies country, we cloud watchers take what we can get.   

Photographer specializes in chasing northern lights

SKY WATCHING — If the city lights and cloudy skies have prevented you from enjoying the recent solor storms generating great shows of Northern Lights, relax, sit back and enjoy this Washington Post story and a gallery of northern lights images by a Montana native who lives in Homer, Alaska.

Dennis Anderson is one of a handful of photographers who make a living by catching the aurora borealis on film.

Be on lookout for northern lights tonight

SKY WATCHING — A big solar flare — perhaps the biggest in five years — combined with a chance for clear skies over much of the region, could offer up a rare chance to see the northern lights in the few hours before dawn on Thursday and maybe Thursday night.

Also, there' a chance your GPS unit may not perform accurately tomorrow, scientists say.

See the New York Post story.

Here is a forecasting tool that updates every 2 minutes!

Moon over Spokane

Was talking with a friend who rides my bus about this morning's moon.

We agreed that it was pretty amazing. (At least it was about an hour ago.)

I said it reminded me of a scene from “Star Wars.” He knew just what I meant.

But now that I review the scene in question from that megamovie, I see that the objects in Luke's sky are not nearly so large as this morning's moon. Of course, there are two of them. So I guess that counts for something.

www.leahmiller.typepad.com

Solar storms will turn on northern lights

SKYWATCHING — Tonight might be prime time, if you can swing it, to go high away from city lights and above the clouds to watch the expected light show in the northern sky.

A massive explosion on the sun's surface has triggered the largest solar radiation storm since 2005, unleashing a torrent of charged plasma particles toward Earth.

The bad news:  Could cause trouble with satellites and GPS navigation, power grids and other high-tech hardware.

The good news:  Likely will trigger displays of aurora borealis, a.k.a the northern lights.

Predicting shows of northern lights is much the same for scientists as predicting the weather, since the aurora is a result of space weather.

While this week is special, scientists expect higher than normal solar activity to persist through the year. Scientists say there's been a minimum rate of solar and aurora activity since 2007.

Northern lights info and forecasts

Find a wealth of info, links, photos and forecasts at this website maintained by the Geophysical Institute at the Unviversity of Alaska Fairbanks.

Get up early Saturday for “red” lunar eclipse

SKY WATCHING — Andy Buddngton of the Spokane Community College Science Department recommends that we get an early, glowing start tomorrow.
 
Shortly after 4:30 Saturday morning, we'll be treated to a “red” lunar eclipse.
 
As the NASA science video explains, this is the last one visible from the Pacific states until 2014.

Looking up, staying up provided ‘highlight’ to Montana visit

SKYWATCHING — Let's say this photo illustrates a highlight of my recent visit to the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge north of my hometown — Lewistown, Mont:  

After hunting and wildlife viewing, I sat in the grass until after midnight one night last week snapping photos of the Northern Lights over one of the largest intact grassland prairies on earth.

Do you see the Big Dipper?