March 24 Day 1111: I Want to Believe

I’ve seen the Aurora Borealis twice in my life for sure. Once in my sophomore year of college in Williamstown, Massachusetts and once in Canada on my way to the Banff Research Center for a mathematics conference. I’ve been rather obsessed with seeing it again, dreaming of trips to Iceland or Alaska for an Aurora hunt.

I have multiple apps on my phone that let me know when conditions are possible for viewing. In Washington state, even at the best of times, the Aurora is rarely visible with the naked eye. But sometimes it can be caught on camera. Last night all indications were strong for a visible aurora EXCEPT for the cloud cover. The geomagnetic alerts on my apps were pinging wildly. The Kp index, which describes the disturbance of the Earth’s magnetic field caused by the solar wind, indicated a severe solar storm. The Bz, which gives the direction of the interplanetary magnetic field, was negative. Since Earth’s magnetic field lines point north, when the incoming interplanetary magnetic field turns south (meaning negative Bz), the fields interact. Charged electrons from the solar wind collide with earth’s atmosphere and an aurora is born.

So despite the prediction of clouds, a little clearing over my house at 9:30 pm encouraged me to visit the waterfront last night. I can’t say for sure that I “saw” the aurora. The cover image is just west of the Point Defiance ferry looking toward Vashon Island and Seattle taken with my iPhone in night mode. The colors only appeared by adjusting the saturation and vibrance. So it’s probably not real. But I want to believe.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America 2021-2022. Past-President of MAA 2023.

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