As some of you are no doubt aware, we are currently approaching a solar maximum, a peak in the activity of the Sun which results in, amongst other things, stronger solar winds. These peaks in the Sun’s activity occur approximately every 11 years, and the geomagnetic storms that are usually only visible in the far north or south can, in the right conditions, be seen over a much larger area.
The strength of geomagnetic storms is measured using the Kp index, a numeric value from 0–9. Around Vancouver, a value of 4 is required to be able to see the aurora on the horizon, and a value of 6 means that it will be visible overhead (in the correct, dark-sky conditions, of course).
Accordingly, when I saw a value of 7.3 forecast at the end of May, the highest value I’ve seen since I’ve been actively monitoring the forecast, I figured that I had to go out and see what I could get, despite a persistent thin layer of cloud which looked like it would be my undoing. I didn’t expect to get much, but I knew if I didn’t try, and saw someone else’s shot, I would be kicking myself!
I arrived at my favourite star observation spot, Porteau Cove Provincial Park, at about 11:30, and it was immediately clear that despite the cloud, there was definitely some aurora visibility — a very noticeable blue-green glow was on the horizon to the north, which I was pretty certain wasn’t the result of the Squamish lights!
While we never did get clear viewing conditions, as can be seen by the relatively few visible stars, the brightness of the lights on the horizon did vary. This is a 7-shot panorama taken from one of the viewing platforms at Porteau Cove Provincial Park, although I’ve cropped it down at the edges. This nicely captures the green glow of the aurora through the clouds and its reflection on the water, as well as the odd patterns in the sky to the west, I believe caused by thin layers of cloud reflecting the lights of Gibsons and Nanaimo.
Edit: The column structure to the west is actually an atmospheric phenomenon known as a light pillar!
I am very hopeful that another strong storm forecast will coincide with clear, dark skies this year, but I’m also glad that I took the chance and went out to capture this — even though the conditions were not ideal, it was stunning to see and photograph.aurora borealis howe sound night sky panorama