Spring Has Sprung

Geomagnetic Storms, Aurora Borealis, Supermoon, Solar Eclipse & Vernal Equinox — Two Weeks Later a Lunar Eclipse — Oh, My!

Just when I thought celestial bodies were in equilibrium, rotating in space, pirouetting in perfectly choreographed and synchronized precision, the heavens — which normally provide stability and predictability in uncertain times — erupt in color, play hide and seek and chaos flares.

I had intended to write a brief musing on the solace of ritual, the changing of the seasons, of winter turning to spring, new beginnings, and the restlessness of the spirit following winter’s slumber. Instead of simply looking up to the sky as the days got longer and the sun set later, I witnessed in awe and wonder the power of the universe and nature to delight and surprise. Indeed, spring has sprung.

St. Pat's Aurora Alaska Sebastian Saarloos

St. Patrick’s Day Aurora in Alaska. Photo Credit: Sebastian Sarloos

Today, Friday, March 20th, is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere.  Coinciding with the equinox is the first solar eclipse of 2015, the first in a series of four spring equinox solar eclipses this century, occurring in 19 year intervals, 2015, 2034, 2053 and 2072. The last time a full eclipse was on the same day as the spring equinox was 1662 (Source: Universe Today).

Solar Eclipse, Photo Credit: Greg Wood AFP/Getty Images

Solar Eclipse, Photo Credit: Greg Wood AFP/Getty Images

Today’s eclipse is caused by the new moon, a Supermoon, which occurs when a full or new moon is closest to Earth in its elliptical pattern and from Earth’s vantage point, eclipses the Sun. In addition to the one today, we will have three more eclipses for a total of four this year, two total lunars and two solars, with one total solar and one partial solar eclipse (Source: Universe Today).

If that wasn’t enough heavenly excitement for the week, on Tuesday, March 17th, those of us in the northern hemisphere were treated to a St. Patrick’s Day holiday display of green Aurora Borealis (and a spectrum of additional colors) caused by subatomic particles from the Sun, channeled down to the night sky horizon by the Earth’s magnetic field.

Northern Lights, Photo Credit: Erin Sutter Hiltbrand

Northern Lights, Photo Credit: Erin Sutter Hiltbrand

Earlier in the day this past Tuesday, a G4 geomagnetic storm began. It is the result of a pair of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that left the Sun on March 15 and are now interacting with Earth’s atmosphere and geomagnetic field. Geomagnetic storms have the potential to disrupt radio transmission signals, cause problems with the electrical grid and a range of other possibly costly impacts.

Geomagnetic Storm, Iceland, Photo Credit: Slooh

Geomagnetic Storm, Iceland, Photo Credit: Slooh

Scientists think two CMEs unexpectedly combined into “…one sort of larger shock front traveling and intersecting Earth’s orbit,” according to Robert Rutledge of the Space Weather Prediction Center (Source: Mashable). The G4 solar storm contributed to the widespread viewing of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights on Tuesday.

So what does this all mean for those of us like me who enjoy the predictable mechanics of astronomic bodies and how they interact and impact on the weather, daylight, and the changing of the seasons? It’s a reminder that things change, that there is a certain magic or alchemy to chaos and the butterfly effect. 

Chaos theory is defined as , “…the study of nonlinear dynamics, in which seemingly random events are actually predictable from simple deterministic equations,” while the butterfly effect presupposes that there is a “…sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.”

Northern Lights, Edgerton, Wisconsin, Photo Credit: Corry Feggestad

Northern Lights, Edgerton, Wisconsin, Photo Credit: Corry Feggestad

On this first day of spring I will look to the heavens with wonder and awe and say a prayer of gratitude for the gift of the cosmos, the ebb and flow of the tides, for mornings and evenings, the circulating dance of the sun and the moon, and the changing of the seasons.  

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