Carleton students and Physics and Astronomy faculty, including Cindy Blaha, Joel Weisberg, Steve Parker, and Nelson Christensen, hosted an open house at the Goodsell Observatory last night. Clear skies and low humidity made for a perfect night for viewing Jupiter and the Summer Triangle. Open houses are the first Friday evening of each month.
We told Joel about a spectacular night in August, 1998, when our family was camping at Twelve Mile Beach in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The entire sky, all directions, lit up with what appeared to be Northern Lights. We likened it to the skies in the movie Ghostbusters. (Photo at left is NOT of the event. I can’t find one on the net, but the whole sky swirled like this photo.) We had no idea what was going on until a month later, we read it about it in Time magazine. Joel knew of the incident… a soft gamma repeater burst, SGR 1900+14. Time articles here and here.
Think quickly: Where were you on August 27? That, according to NASA scientists, is when the biggest Earth-bound burst of gamma rays and X rays ever recorded pummeled our planet’s upper atmosphere, disrupting radio broadcasts and satellite transmissions — whilst the occupants, safely sheltered beneath a thick blanket of air, remained largely oblivious… If we could have harnessed that single wave of energy, it would have been enough to “power all of human civilization on Earth for a billion billion years,” according to Kevin Hurley of the University of California at Berkeley. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Most of us never saw it at all.
We saw it. For hours.