Western Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
March 31, 2001
It was on March 29, 2001, just after midnight, that the sun unleashed a major flare from a sunspot group known as 9393. This was the first huge flare in a series that would include the most energetic ever measured with modern instruments.
The sunspot group itself was the largest observed in the entire current 11-year solar cycle. It was as large as a dozed Earths or more and it was easily visible to the naked (but well-protected) eye.
This monster of a flare produced a barrage of charged particles and it was aimed directly at the Earth. When the shock-front of this explosion arrived at the Earth 36 hours later, it was the densest that had ever been recorded. The reaction of these particles with Earth's magnetic field and upper atmosphere resulted in beautiful auroral displays visible in many parts of the globe as far south as Mexico and Cuba. To see the aurora this far south into the tropics only happens once or twice a century.
I followed the action on-line as reports came in from Eurorpe and Eastern North America and knew that we were in for something big. It had been a crystal clear blue-sky all day but as darkness fell over Alaska the sky began to cloud up. Snow started to fall and all hope for a clear sky began to fade.
I loaded my truck with camera equipment anyhow and I was determined not to miss out. I searched the internet for weather information - local conditions, satellite images and doppler radar. I thought I saw a hole.so I bet everything I had on a radar image and drove white-knuckled through the blizzard to emerge 100 miles later in a sky filled with stars and the most colorful aurora that I had ever seen!
The whole southern sky was filled with colorful lights. There were brilliant reds and greens and where they merged oranges and yellows. There were tall rays of blue and purple streaching up to the zenith and shades of pink, magenta and fuchia where they merged with the reds. This whole rainbow of colors slowly swun northward filling the whole sky with color before the light of dawn began to over power thie incredible display.
I took this photo with a 6x6 medium format camera with a 30mm fish-eye lens and Kodak E100VS film while looking to the south and west from Captain Cook State Park.
This image is availible in the following sizes: 5x7, 6x9