October 29, 2003

Northern Lights Midland, Texas October 29, 2003

Aurora Display

All of the satellite derived data and the SOHO images were obtained from the following sites:


Current SOHO Imagery

Space Environment Center

A rare and brilliant display of the Aurora Borealis (northern lights) was visible in the skies above west Texas during the early morning hours of Wednesday October 29. This "geomagnetic storm" was triggered by intense sunspot activity, which resulted in a huge solar eruption.

Sunspot activity generally follows an 11 year cycle. The peak of the current solar cycle occurred during the year 2000. During the week of October 19-25, 2003, sunspot activity increased dramatically. Sunspot groups 484 and 486 became very large, and were characterized by complicated magnetic fields.

11 year solar cycle progression
Graph showing the progression of the 11 year solar cycle. In October 2003, sunspot
activity was on the decrease following a peak in 2000.

MDI of solar disk on October 28
Michelson Doppler Image of the Sun on October 28, 2003. This image shows three large sunspot groups.
The group located in the low center of the image is 486, where a very intense solar flare originated.

Active Solar Disk and 486 From Midland, Texas
This image shows the active solar disk and the very large sunspot groups 486, 484, and 488 from Midland, Texas, at approximately
1800 UTC on the 28th. This image was taken using a 35mm Pentak SLR camera and a Celestron 76mm Tabletop Reflecting Telescope.

During the morning hours of October 28 (1110 UTC), NOAA sunspot region 486 produced a very intense solar flare. This released high energy particles into space almost directly towards the Earth. X-rays traveling near the speed of light arrived in the near-Earth environment within about 8 minutes of the explosion. Measurements of the x-ray flux indicated that the flare was third most powerful solar flare on record (Records began in 1976. The same sunspot group produced additional historic solar flare activity into the first of November, and this ranking no longer stands). Using images of the Sun taken at multiple wavelengths from ground-based and satellite-based equipment, scientists estimated the shockwave from the blast was traveling towards the Earth at approximately 2100 km/s (nearly 5 million mph), and would impact the near-Earth space during the very early morning hours of October 29. At 1157 CST the National Weather Service office in Midland issued a Public Information Statement (LBBPNSMAF) which discussed the possibility of an aurora display occurring in the skies above west Texas and southeastern New Mexico after midnight.

SOHO image - full halo CME
SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) image showing the coronal mass ejection associated with the intense
solar blast on October 28 in the form of a full halo expansion of material surrounding the Sun. The full halo is indicative of
an Earth directed eruption. The image became snowy as high speed particles hit the sensor.

x-ray flux
The spike on this graph traces the abrupt arrival of x-rays in the near-Earth environment
shortly after the intense solar flare on October 28.

Shortly after midnight CST (0612 UTC) the shockfront impacted the Earth's magnetosphere. As a result, charged particles traveling in the fast solar winds excited atoms and molecules in the earth's upper atmosphere, causing them to emitt brilliant light in the form of an aurora. Although this process is not unusual, the magnitude of energy associated with the flare resulted in widespread aurorae that were visible well south into the middle and lower latitudes.

Northern Lights Midland, Texas October 29, 2003

Northern Lights Midland, Texas October 29, 2003

Northern Lights Midland, Texas October 29, 2003

These images show the view of the October 29, 2003 aurora from just northwest of Midland, Texas. The first two images were taken between 0840 and 0905 UTC, and depict an intense auroral substorm that was highly visible to the unaided eye in the form of brilliant crimson colored vertical rays of light. The final image was captured at 1000 UTC, and shows the continued faint and diffuse glow of the aurora. At the time of the last image, only a faint and colorless glow was visually detectable in the northern sky.

Check out the SpaceWeather.com Photo Gallery for the October 29, 2003 Aurora here.

Click here to visit the Southern U.S. Aurora Forum
Click to visit the Southern U.S. Aurora Forum

To Todd's November 5/6, 2001 Aurora Page

To Todd's November 7 & 9, 2004 Aurora Page

Back To Todd's Astro Images Page

Back To Todd's Astronomy Page