It was half past midnight on the last day of August. A solar wind stream blowing at 700 km a second reached Earth a little sooner than predicted. The northern lights had been dancing on and off for the past few hours. But then I noticed a strange pattern, which was dim enough that I wasn’t sure it was really there. A long exposure revealed greater detail and color. The picket fence pattern is related to a rare, recently classified type of aurora called STEVE (Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.) STEVE most often appears as a bright, pinkish ribbon of light found away from the main band of aurora. STEVE may or may not be accompanied by this green picket fence, but on this night the brighter streak of light was absent. It was my first time seeing it this far south in Wyoming. Lake DeSmet provided a beautiful blurred reflection when the wind let up. This night was the first of 4 in a row that I’d capture the aurora. The weeks surrounding the spring and fall equinoxes tend to be the most favorable for geomagnetic storm conditions. But around here the weather tends to be a lot clearer in the early fall, which is why I have more aurora sightings in September than in March.
- Kevin Palmer
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