It has been weeks of clouds, rain (which we needed), high winds (not needed), and schedule complications, so there has not been much observing from my urban observatory (yard) in Lenexa, Kansas. BUT, Friday and Saturday evenings I was finally able to do some astronomy, and observed both nights. Sunday I got a txt from a friend asking if I had seen the aurora borealis Saturday night. Huh? I’ve tuned out the news to a considerable extent and wasn’t aware that was a happening thing.

The image above is from my yard Saturday night. I was exploring with the Kowa Highlander 82 Fluorite and experimenting with an Astro-Tech AT80ED refractor as a support telescope (neatly inverting the misguided notion that binoculars support telescopes instead of vice versa). 😉

I noticed some hazy clouds but nothing in the Northern Lights category. I’m wondering how many locals confused filmy clouds for Northern Lights? 😏 Note: the aurora borealis is a naked eye phenomena — not something observed with binoculars or telescopes.

The name auroa borealis was coined by Galileo in 1619 combining the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora, with the Greek name of the north wind, Boreas. The lights are caused by solar particles from the sun interacting with the magnetic field in Earth’s upper atmosphere causing molecules (mostly oxygen and nitrogen) to fluoresce in colors of red (or pink) and green.

I have seen the Aurora Borealis from Kansas City in the past. It’s somewhat rare to see this far south, and in urban skies particularly. The few times I have seen it the colors have been pale pink or green and the light formations have a somewhat linear or patterned structure different from the misshapen veils of hazy clouds.

A friend and work colleague, Doug Turner, shared this fine image he took Saturday night (the same night I saw hazy clouds from my urban yard) with his mobile phone in night mode at Lake Viking in northwest Missouri near Altamont. Doug noted that the light display and color is more vivid in the image than what could be seen naked eye. If you live in an area where aurora displays are less visible, getting away from city lights (and being handy with your mobile phone camera 😉) is a good strategy for enjoying the light show.

More about support telescopes soon…