Auroras widely seen July 14. Chance on July 15, too

The CME from the July 12 X-flare arrived at Earth around 1 p.m. Central Daylight Time (18 UTC) on July 14. An aurora alert is in effect for July 14 and 15.

A shimmering aurora – or northern lights – was seen at lower latitudes than expected last night (night of July 14, 2012). says it has gotten reports of sightings as far south as California, Colorado, Missouri, Utah, Wisconsin, Iowa, Oregon, Illinois, Nebraska, and Arkansas. On EarthSky’s Facebook page, we’ve also had photos from various northern states. A few of them are below. Will you see an aurora (northern lights) on the night of Sunday, July 15, 2012? No one knows for sure, but there is a chance. Check the skies periodically after dark. Look north, especially if you’re at a more southerly latitude.

And, no matter how wonderful it is, the aurora isn’t the only outstanding thing to see in tonight’s sky. People all over the world are marveling at the array of planets and stars in the east before dawn. Check out the image below, from master sky photographer Dan Bush of the Missouri Skies website.

Read more about the planets and moon before dawn July 16

As you gaze at this image, you’re facing northeast and north. The brightest planets Venus and Jupiter are in the northeast before dawn now. The moon has passed them this weekend and will be visible below the planets Monday morning, July 16. In this image, taken July 15, you can also see an aurora in the northern sky. Image from EarthSky Facebook friend Dan Bush of the great Missouri Skies website. Thank you for sharing, Dan!

Click here to expand image above

The auroras were caused by an X1.4-class solar flare that erupted from giant sunspot group 1520 on July 12, 2012. The sunspot was directly facing Earth when the X-flare occurred. The flare caused a coronal mass ejection (CME), which hit Earth’s magnetic field on July 14 at approximately 18:00 UTC (1 p.m. Central Daylight Time). As a result, Earth’s magnetic field has become unsettled, and auroras are likely over the next few days.

Read more about the July 12 X-flare

If you were in Canada last night, you had an even better display of northern lights. Here’s the scene in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada this morning, July 15. EarthSky Facebook friend Colin Chatfield of Chatfield Photographics made this capture. Thank you for sharing, Colin!

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Couldn’t resist posting this one, too. Aurora, seen on the morning of July 15, 2012 in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada by EarthSky Facebook friend Colin Chatfield of Chatfield Photographics.
But the view wasn’t too shabby from northern Wisconsin, either. EarthSky Facebook friend Migizi Gichigumi in northern Wisconsin said he had to wait for fog to clear over Lake Superior on the night of July 14-15. Then this beautiful aurora appeared. See how Migizi also captured the Big Dipper here? He must be looking due north. Thank you, Migizi!
Auroras can take many forms. This July 12 aurora seen over Earth’s South Pole had a different cause than the July 14-15 display, but it gives you the idea of the aurora’s dancing shape. Robert Schwarz took this photo. He’s doing research at the South Pole now, toiling away in the long Antarctic night. Check out his website. Photo used with permission.

Bottom line: Auroras were seen on the night of July 14-15 into the lower 48 states of the United States, and (presumably) comparable latitudes around the world. An X1.4-class solar flare that erupted from giant sunspot group 1520 on July 12 sent a coronal mass ejection, or CME, directly toward Earth. It has caused the geomagnetic field to become unsettled. Will auroras happen on the night of July 15, too? Will they dip down into more southerly latitudes, such as the northern U.S.? No one knows, but if I were there, I’d check outside periodically tonight on the off chance of seeing a shimmering aurora.

What causes the aurora borealis, or northern lights?

Source of the auroras: X-flare from giant sunspot group 1520

July 15, 2012

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Deborah Byrd

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