Chris Gainor

The month of May opened with all of us still talking about the total solar eclipse on April 8, an event that we all assumed would go down as the singular celestial highlight of this year.

As the one-month anniversary of the eclipse arrived, we started to hear a lot of chatter about a sunspot group on our Sun that was so big it could be plainly seen with those eclipse glasses we had left over from April 8. Unusually, no magnification was required to see them.

Aurora Borealis under North Pole - VIIRS
Aurora Borealis under North Pole – VIIRS

That sunspot group was part of a series of solar storms that included solar flares and coronal mass ejections that were headed toward Earth. Events such as these are becoming more common as the Sun reaches the peak of its 11-year cycle next year.

On Friday May 10, the word was out that we could expect major auroral displays all around Canada and well into the United States. By then, photos began to appear of the sunspots and flares, including images by our own David Lee.

I’ve seen many alerts for auroral activities and have usually been disappointed for a variety of reasons, but at least on this day, the skies were clear. I took out my eclipse glasses and solar telescope that afternoon and observed the great sunspot group, which by then was moving close to the limb of the Sun.

Once darkness had arrived late that evening, I went outside my home in Sidney. Even before I got to a nearby park, it was clear that there was an auroral display the likes of which I have never seen on the west coast, where I have spent most of my adult life.

I grew up in Edmonton and as a youngster I was the aurora coordinator for the Edmonton Centre. During that time we feasted on fairly regular and sometimes spectacular displays. Aside from occasional visits back to Alberta and a memorable trip to Yukon six years ago, I’ve rarely seen the Northern Lights since I moved to the coast.

May 10, 2024 Aurora – photos by members

The May 10-11 display was not the brightest display I’ve ever seen, but unlike every other display I’ve seen from the coast, it covered the entire sky and included corona patterns. Along with many other members of the Victoria centre and many local friends who aren’t involved in our hobby, I got some good photos that night.

Auroral photos filled social media and traditional media in the days that followed. We heard that large numbers of Victorians crowded places such as Cattle Point and Island View Beach to enjoy the aurora.

The display that night was not unprecedented for Victoria, however. David Lee reports having seen a similar display from here 20 years ago, probably in association with the Halloween solar storms of 2003.

President’s Message – May 2024
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