.Aurora Borealis Light Up Wine Country

In the wake of solar-eclipse mania earlier this spring, we got another bump of cosmic euphoria last weekend in the form of some rare northern-lights sightings, much farther south than usual. This was pretty much a once-in-a-generation phenomenon; the last time it happened here was reportedly more than 20 years ago. (Not sure what I was doing that night in 2003!) And last weekend’s big aurora show arguably eclipsed the eclipse, in terms of pure glitz factor — watercoloring the sky in a dazzling wash of pinks, purples, yellows, blues and greens. Aurora borealis chasers swarmed all the rural nooks of the wine country with the least light pollution on Friday and Saturday nights, armed with cellphone cameras whose slow-exposure tech has gotten so advanced that often the photos were even more mind-blowing than the naked-eye view. Just another quick reminder that we are mere specks in a vast and incomprehensibly epic universe of wonders! As you may have already learned by furiously googling “WTF is going on” like much of the country, all this gorgeousness was caused by a momentous geomagnetic storm — aka, even more chaos than usual coming from the stormy ball of gas and plasma that is our sun. Here’s some more info from a CBS News report, which almost reads like campy sci-fi: “An ‘extreme’ G5 geomagnetic storm reached Earth on Friday, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said, after issuing a watch earlier in the day warning of the potential for a severe impact. The watch followed days of solar activity that sent several explosions of plasma and magnetic fields toward Earth. G5 is the strongest level of geomagnetic storm, on a scale from G1 to G5. ‘Widespread voltage control problems and protective system problems can occur,’ NOAA warns. ‘Some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage.’ Radio transmissions and satellite navigation may also be disrupted.” If you’re into pseudoscience like moi, you may have also experienced some power-of-suggestion solar storm symptoms like nausea, headaches, grogginess, soreness and general existential angst. Here’s an excerpt from one especially out-there PR email I received yesterday from a publicist for “psychic influencer Elizabeth April” (don’t ask me how I get on these lists): “Solar storms have a profound effect on the human body and consciousness. However, most people have difficulty rationalizing how or why astronomical events such as Mercury retrograde can knock them off their equilibrium so much. Here to offer a guiding light is Elizabeth April, an intuitive psychic and best-selling author. Through her popular YouTube channel, social media accounts (210k IG followers), and podcast, Elizabeth has enlightened hundreds of thousands on their unique station in the universe.” Nothing like a big space event to get the crazy juices flowing! How about I leave us with some grounding words from national weather officials, who are better trained at drawing the line at mere awe: “For many people, the aurora is a beautiful nighttime phenomenon that is worth traveling to arctic regions just to observe. It is the only way for most people to actually experience space weather.” Amen. (Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration & CBS News & SF Chronicle & Napa Valley Register & Press Democrat)


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