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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:


  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.

    Tom - NCØO

  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.

  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!!

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

  5. I was 2 years old! It was so profound that I came online searching for when this event could have taken place. I remember still to this day! It must have been spectacular for a 2 year old to remember such a thing. I lived in Joplin, MO at the time and it has been a strong desire to see the AB again as an adult. I'll be 50 in May, sounds like a wonderful half century birthday present to me. I live in Texas now and have since 1984, so there have been no spectacular late night light shows since then. Thank you for this article, I was focusing on years 73 and 74 thinking in 72 I was too young and in 75 and up I would have been aware enough to remember much more about the event. Imagine a memory so ingrained it resonates still nearly 48 years later.

  6. I was 15 years old living in Rocklake, ND. They were insane!!!! The colors were none that I have ever seen since, even in pictures! Unbelievable ad I tru ro described what me and my sister's and cousins witness that night.

  7. Thanks to all who commented over the years. Rockdale, ND: Your comments got kind of garbled -- please, what did you want to say?

  8. I thought I had a memory lapse or something I remember being at our Church and seeing them people look at me now like I'm crazy to have this memory. Thank u for confirming I would have been 10 yrs old. I'll have to check if that was a Wednesday or Sunday night

  9. Could I have seen them outside of Dallas Texas?! I remember wavy red lights glowing all across the sky one night in august in the 1970s. I can’t specifically remember the year, but it was definitely summer and it was just amazing.

  10. LisaR: Yes, that could have been it! Bill


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