Hunting Auroras

Due to the solar flare, it was thought we might be able to see the aurora borealis as far south as Seattle. Last night because it was finally clear, my friend Rebecca and I went out to hunt for them. Due to the light pollution, we knew we had to get out of the city. So we packed up some gear into her car and headed east.

We first to Redmond’s Marymoor Park thinking the large fields in a more suburban neighborhood would be dark enough. We stretched out a sleeping bag next to the car and watched the stars come out. With the help of Star Walk on my I-pad, we found the big dipper, Draco, Lyra, and even found Saturn.

Still around 10pm, we both felt it wasn’t dark enough. So we decided to head further east. Yet as we packed up, we had a frightening encounter with some of the local wildlife. I slipped my foot into my shoe and felt something wet. I pulled out quickly. A banana slug had decided my shoe was a great place to spend the night. It wasn’t hurt. We released it in a nearby field. Run free, little slug.

We stopped at an elementary school a mile or so east of Redmond and realized how much brighter the stars, but there wasn’t enough opening in the trees so we kept going.

Checking out a map, we saw a lake. We figured we might find a boat launch or park, but as we circled the lake, we were denied.

We turned into the Tolt River valley and saw an unlit dirt road leading into a field. So we headed down that a few hundred feet. We parked the car pulled out the sleeping bag and reset up our aurora watching camp. As the temperature dropped bundled up and laid closer so we could wrap the sleeping bag around us.

The Milky Way was completely visible and we broke out Star Walk to name some new things we saw, but mostly we sat in the perfect darkness just looking at the night sky. We saw at least six or seven shooting stars and dozens of satellites. A bit after midnight, I checked if anyone had sighted it. I read and saw photos of the aurora from New Hampshire, but it had not been seen from Seattle. We stayed another twenty minutes before packing it in.

You know what’s funny about all this? I wrote a book about a stargazer, before I ever really went stargazing. I grew up in the suburbs, went camping, night hiking but the stars used to be pinpricks of light filling the sky. It was the research for Other Systems that made me see the constellations the way I could see them last night.

Anyway if anyone wants to see photos of my stargazing adventure, they will be alongside this entry at http://zbpublications.wordpress.com/ (Note these are trip photos. All my star pictures did not turn out.)

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