On Saturday night, two waves of plasma unleashed by the sun (coronal mass ejections) collided on their flight towards Earth. The result? A geomagnetic storm that produced eye-popping aurora (northern lights) as far south as the mid-Atlantic.
Extreme weather photographer Jeff Berkes was in the right place at the right time and took advantage of a very rare opportunity to photograph the northern lights in eastern Maryland. He explains:
I knew a geomagnetic storm was in progress while camping along the beaches of Assateague Island National Seashore. They were very faint to the naked eye and only experience sky watchers would be able to notice them. I pointed my lens to the north and used a long exposure of 20 seconds at f/2.8 to capture the faint hues of the Aurora Borealis over Ocean City, Maryland.
The aurora appear more impressive in the photograph than they did in person.
“Remember photography is about capturing the light, and light is additive, so this means your camera can pick up things that your eyes may miss,” Berkes said.
SpaceWeather.com, where Berkes originally posted the aurora photos, said there were also aurora sightings in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Utah, Nebraska, Washington, Oregon, and the Dakotas Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
Berkes’ capture of the aurora was assisted by his position far away from light pollution and very little moonlight (waning crescent that evening). In addition to photographing the aurora, he also snapped a shot of a meteor (above) which “exploded 2 times just before it burned up,” he said.
For the next two nights, we’re in a new moon phase (not visible), meaning dark skies - ideal for stargazing (if you can get away from city haze and light).
“Might be worth getting up early in the morning this week,” Berkes said.