Northern exposure: Will Ottawa get chance to see aurora borealis? – Ottawa

Attention skygazers! 

There could be a rare spectacle visible in the night sky over Ottawa Wednesday and Thursday: aurora borealis.

Two powerful solar flares erupted from the sun on Wednesday, including one astronomers are saying is the most powerful recorded since 2006.

While solar flares can disrupt satellites and radio communications, a visually delightful secondary effect that often happens is a coronal mass ejection, a huge cloud of magnetized particles that, when they hit the Earth’s magnetic field, can create the dazzling light show we know as the northern lights.

The strength of this week’s storm is expected to make the northern lights visible right from across southern Canada and parts of the northern United States, according to local astronomer Gary Boyle.

That is, if the skies co-operate.


Here are three things you need to know

1. The weather forecast isn’t great

Environment Canada’s forecast for Ottawa and the surrounding region is partly or mainly cloudy with a 30 per cent chance of showers for Wednesday night, and mainly cloudy skies Thursday night.

“What you see is what you get,” said Boyle. “But you might get some sucker holes throughout the night. These openings in the clouds and you get this nice lime green.”

Boyle said another impediment over the next two nights will be the relatively bright moonlight.

 2. Go north, east or west of downtown

Ottawa astronomer Gary Boyle has educated the public about the night sky for years. He says, despite the cloudy forecast, it’s worth trying to catch a peak at the rare aurora here in the Ottawa Valley. (Submitted)

The glow from Ottawa will likely ruin the view of the lights if you are south of the city since the lights will be in the north sky, so if you do go looking for a break in the clouds, Boyle recommends heading north, west or east.

“So in those three directions is best to go … Even if you have trees in the background, a tree with the aurora behind it, or the tree in the shot, might make the image of the year.”

3. Use a tripod to take photos

“Set your DSLR camera on a tripod. Set the ISO, or sensitivity, to maybe 1600 and expose for five to 10 seconds. I mean pixels are free so you might as well play around with settings and you might get some pretty decent auroras even through clouds. It’s something to…

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