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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Carrington Flares, Aurora, Where were you on August 4, 1972?

Greg, KC2DWF, sent me a really interesting story about the work of the English solar astronomer Richard Carrington. He discovered a kind of solar flare (named for him) that comes along every few centuries and could knock us all off the air.

As I was reading the article, I started to think about a childhood event that I think I mentioned in one of the podcasts. I have vivid memories of a summer night in which the skies were filled with really bright colorful lights. The article about Carrington notes that there was a major solar flare (but not of Carrington levels) on August 4, 1972 that caused auroral displays far into the southern part of the USA. The year is a bit later than I thought (I was 13 at that time) but the time of year is correct. And that flare was big enough to have caused really vivid aurora over New York.
The NASA site "Brushfires in the Sky" provides this very helpful list for people, like me, trying to figure out what we saw, and when:

The Aurora Watchers Handbook lists the following "Great Geomagnetic Storms" of the 20th century when auroras were seen much farther south than usual. If you have a childhood memory of aurora borealis, it may have come from one of these storms.

  • October 31 - November 1, 1903
  • September 25, 1909
  • May 13-16, 1921
  • April 16, 1938
  • February 11, 1958
  • July 8, 1958
  • August 4, 1972
  • December 19, 1980
  • March 13-14, 1989
Looks to me like my event was August 4, 1972. Anyone else have memories of this storm?

Here is the article that Greg sent:
http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2008/06may_carringtonflare.htm

4 comments:

  1. I remember that 1972 flare. It was shortly after I had finished building an 8" Newtonian telescope. I had it out in my back yard in Iowa when I noticed the aurora. I first though it some huge fire in a nearby town. The red glow looked as if it was flame reflecting off low clouds.

    I went in and called some friends in that town and and they informed me there was no fire. Later the 'curtain' streamers started and it became clear it was the Northern Lights.

    73,
    Tom - NCØO

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  2. I was in northern Michigan the summer of '72 working at a children's camp. I do remember seeing the Northern Lights for the first time in early August (I'm from Missouri). Even the locals were surprised how active they were - especially for summertime.

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  3. I remember it well. I had just returned from Tanglewood (Lenox, MA)where I enjoyed Leonard Bernstein and the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform Dvorak's "New World Symphony". I just happened to glance north while exiting my car....What a stroke of good fortune!!

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  4. I don't remember it, but I was there for some of it.... I was born 6:15pm that day. :)

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