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Posted on Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 11:27 a.m.

Northern Lights visible in Washtenaw County: Did you see them?

By Jen Eyer


The Northern Lights seen over the observatory dome at the home of Brian Ottum in Saline.

Photo courtesy of Brian Ottum

Local skywatchers were treated to a rare Northern Lights display last night. We've heard from several readers that auroras were visible in the less-populated areas of Washtenaw County.

Brian D. Ottum, an amateur astronomer from Saline, sent us the photo at right, and Eastern Michigan University admissions advisor Tom Kasper contributed the gallery below. If you took a photo, email it to us at, and we'll post it here.

The lights were visible due to a massive burst of solar wind that hit Earth on Monday. According to, "the impact sparked an intense geomagnetic storm. ... As night fell over North America, auroras spilled across the Canadian border into the contiguous United States."

"This was one of the best aurora displays I’ve seen in the Ann Arbor area," wrote Ottum, a business consultant who maintains a 16-foot observatory in his backyard in Saline. "But the sun is entering a very active phase, so we can expect to see more over the next couple years. Yes, these are rare for us in the middle-latitudes."

Jen Eyer is director of audience engagement for Reach her at



Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

I was able to see them barely because of the downtown lights....but then again I saw Northern Lights for the first time when I was in Alaska...amazing...tough to beat!

Kai Petainen

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 2:22 p.m.

it's not easy for to tell you that it'll happen. you can sign up for space weather notices... but they give you probabilities. and so it might give you a 40% chance, but that chance might happen at 3am, or it might not happen, or it might be cloudy, etc.... for example, here are the probabilities for the next 3 days. Geomagnetic Activity Probabilities 26 Oct-28 Oct A. Middle Latitudes Active 15/05/15 Minor storm 05/01/05 Major-severe storm 01/01/01 of the event that just happened.. .here is the description: The geomagnetic field ranged from quiet to severe storm levels. The period began with unsettled to minor storm levels. By 25/0000Z, minor to major storm levels, with high latitude severe storm levels, were observed. From 25/0300Z - 0900Z, active to major storm levels predominated followed by quiet to active levels for the remainder of the period. This increase in activity was likely associated with effects following the arrival of CME activity, first observed on 22 October.

Ming Bucibei

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 2:21 p.m.

I missed it :-( I did see them a number of years ago in AA tho! :-) Ming Bucibei

Ming Bucibei

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 2:12 p.m.

Missed last night :-( I did see them here a number of years ago Wonderful sight to see!! Ming Bucibei


Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 1:17 p.m.

Not everyone follows the specialized news forums and websites relating to astronomy. It might have been nice if the published and article yesterday, telling us it was coming, than an article today, telling us what we missed.


Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 11:13 a.m.

The still photos are time exposure- to the naked eye they were less dramatic but still quite visible.


Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 11:10 a.m.

I'm pretty sure it's a sign of some significant religious event... better consult nostradomus and the witch hunters on this one!


Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 4 a.m. has a free notification service. They will send you an email when there is a good chance of northern lights, meteor showers, etc. For a fee they'll even call or text your phone. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 1:07 a.m.

Went to Montana to see them and never did. Now when I live here, I missed them again. Need an agenda here. Thanks for the disappointing news.

Kara Marie

Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 12:45 a.m.

Wait.. when could you see the northern lights in Ann Arbor? Isn't the light pollution too much? But then again, if you go out to Dexter or Saline, sure.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 10:36 p.m.

Saw them when I was taking the garbage out last night around 9:30. It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

Kai Petainen

Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 8:09 p.m.

amazing photos by 'stargazeremu'. i'm quite jealous. here's an update: &quot;Summary For October 17-23 Space weather was at minor levels during the week. Isolated Category R1 (Minor) Radio Blackouts occurred during 20 - 22 October due to moderate-sized solar flares. A brief Category S1 (Minor) Solar Radiation Storm occurred on 23 October following a solar flare near the Sun's west limb on 22 October.&quot;


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 7:42 p.m.

I'm bummed I missed it. I love things like this and I live in Lenawee County in the country I could have seen it. I didn't hear anything in the news yesterday, and it was my B-day, would have been a great B-day present. :( I hope it happens again soon.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 5:23 p.m.

Is that a UFO on the left side of the sky with the four equally spaced, seemingly connected, lights? Or is the image a multiple exposure or long exposure time photograph? With a very long exposure time a fast moving plane with a blinking light would look like that, but that would imply an exposure of a number of seconds. Looks like Ottum captured more than just pretty colors...


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 5:41 p.m.

Yes, you are right that it was a long exposure - 4 seconds. The airplane's lights blinked once every second. Dome was illuminated with smartphone's &quot;flashlight&quot; app.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 5:23 p.m.

Saw them North of Ann Arbor, way too much light pollution in town to see much. Very intense reds this time, curtains of green, all while I cussed in the frustration of a dead camera battery...


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 5:04 p.m.

I wasn't able to see them, but I have been lucky enough to see them here before years ago. They didn't look like this, but I remember them being oddly shaped clouds with colors changing from red to green as you looked across the sky.

say it plain

Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 4:39 p.m.

Great info @Kai Petainen, I'm going to have to check out the spaceweather forecast more often, it would have been really cool to try and check out this gorgeous 'storm' last night, but I had no idea... I've never seen these and so so want to :-)


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 4:31 p.m.

It was fantastic. We saw a hugh red aurora with green under it from our backyard. It lasted about 30 minutes. What a show.

Mark Salke

Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 4:29 p.m.

That's cool. I was up last night but didn't notice. I live in town though.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 4:14 p.m.

Lacking time for this sort of thing lately - so naturally I missed it and didn't even know about this display until today. I am (very much) the type who will charge outdoors with my camera (and / or small telescope) to catch &quot;sky watching events&quot; like this. Thanks to Kai Petainen for the very informative post. Speed: Light travels at about 660 million miles per hour. This solar mass ejection (&quot;storm&quot;) travelled over 93 million miles in roughly 48 hours. That's about 2 million miles per hour (very rough est.). So, the fastest NASA interplanetary probes hit about 38 - thousand - miles per hour. Mankind's space faring is a slow poke affair, eh?

dading dont delete me bro

Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 4:07 p.m.



Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 8:39 p.m.

Me neither.

Kai Petainen

Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 3:53 p.m.

I missed it! ARGH! Ed has a bit on it here: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Ann Arbor is located around the KP=7 line on this map <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> And according to this, it hit 7 last night <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> (which means that we should be able to see it) If people saw the lights around 9:00, that would be 02:00 UT time. So here is a map of the auroral activity <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> You'll notice that the map is quite red. This is what a non-active event looks like on that map <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 4:26 p.m.

Awesome research thanks for the links!