Sister ISON Encounter


I am so jealous; as green with envy as ISON appeared to my sister this morning. It just isn’t fair – I’m the space weather fanatic, and she’s the one who catches a glimpse of ISON.

Early this morning she left Battleford for Saskatoon. Moments after hitting highway 16, listening happily to talk radio, a “large furry brown ass” assaults the front end of her car. Luckily instinct kicked in; slamming her brakes hard, skidding to a stop at the side of the road. The deer shook it off; much less fazed than my gob smacked sister. Completely un-nerved, she gathered herself for a minute before stepping out to inspect the damage. As she quivered, talk radio guy gushed about comet ISON on the eastern horizon.

I expressed relief that her car wasn’t damaged too badly. Then I made her describe exactly how she encountered ISON. Like a child wanting to hear a story over and over again, I had her explain exactly where she was standing, what time it was, how the sky looked and what her reaction was.

Her description left my breathless, not only could I picture the morning, I could smell the air and feel the chill of early morning frost. Not a cloud in the sky; a tangerine glow rolled out in anticipation of the rising sun. Ice fog reluctantly releasing its grip; tipping its hat to the approaching sun, pleased with itself for coating every last blade of grass with ice crystals. Sorry it wouldn’t have a chance to marvel as sunlight bounced off ice fog’s creation. Not a hint of wind; by all accounts wind stepped aside – so glorious was the imminent sunrise.

The voice on the radio sent her gaze to the eastern sky – that’s when she saw it, ISON appeared as a greenish blob on the horizon. Her reaction warmed my heart – she swears she did a happy dance around the car in my honour. She gushed about Saskatoon radio guy and his enthusiasm for all things space. Radio guy apparently reports space weather every day before sunrise; he tells listeners exactly where and at what time to look for ISON depending on which road you happen to be driving. I practically jumped out of my skin – hats off to you radio guy, you just made my day.

I don’t hold much optimism that ISON will survive an encounter with the sun’s atmosphere on Nov. 28. Yesterday many believed the nucleus had broken apart; today paints a brighter picture – new images seem to show it still intact. Time will tell – in a few days we’re in for another cosmic let down, or on the off chance ISON escapes the sun’s atmosphere intact – a celestial show of epic proportions.

While I wait – I can’t help but feel envious my sister hit a deer this morning. If not for that deer and Saskatoon radio guy – she never would have laid eyes on comet ISON.


Credits: This movie was made by reader Rob Matson using data from STEREO-A.

Notes Is Home


ÖÖÖFresh off the plane, barely a foot in my door, and trying to decompress enough to put my week on the prairies into words. It isn’t an easy task; I feel like someone who’s surfaced from a deep rabbit hole – a little dazed, still adjusting to the bright light of day. Don’t get me wrong – everything I’ve ever written about the prairies holds true. The prairies haven’t lost their magic, despite skies too cloudy for auroras and nary a blizzard to assault my rain forest sensibilities; Saskatchewan never disappoints.

My family thinks I’m completely out of my mind; from the moment I stepped out of the terminal in Saskatoon, a silly grin invaded my face. It was -17, snowing, with a 60 Km/hour wind wreaking all manner of havoc – wind chill measured at -27. “No” I replied, “I’m not cold, this is outstanding, I couldn’t be happier”. Every snow drift, grain elevator, freight train or dip in the road, worthy of a photo.

ÖÖI’ve travelled many places yet never get over the gob smacking starkness of our great plains. A starkness possessing an inexplicable quality – perhaps simply a place where the seasons make sense, where frivolity has no place.  Around every corner light skips between anything sturdy enough to brave the elements. Prairie sun  predictable as winter’s road closing tantrums; glorious sunshine transforming vistas into landscapes that rival any I’ve witnessed.

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ÖIt would be fair to say, I’m smitten with the Canadian Prairies. That silly grin lasted all week – tomorrow I’ll ponder what I did with my week.

Geomagnetic Holiday Suggestion


For anyone who hasn’t experienced the Northern Lights this ponder may fall flat as words can’t describe their magic. You don’t have to travel to Alaska or Norway to be touched by Auroras. The solar wind is raging at over 500 Km/second and an impressive geomagnetic storm is under way. Picture this storm as a shock wave caused by blasts of solar wind that compresses our magnetic field, sends it reverberating in all directions, and interacts with the magnetosphere, forcing this energy downward from the poles in a glorious display of light.

Worth adding to any bucket list is a trip to destinations within the “auroral oval”. In 1986 a massive storm resulted in auroras as far south as Texas. Bundle up the family, throw caution to the wind and head for Edmonton or Saskatoon when the solar wind blows, there’s no better way to start your understanding of the power of our universe.

http://spaceweather.com/

northern lights

Photo – Bob Martinson AP