East of Ely - The night Steve came to town

by David Krikorian

Numerous locals stayed up late to view the Aurora Borealis last Saturday and Sunday nights, many taking gorgeous photos of the watermelon lights, streaking and arching above the northern horizon.
One determined photographer, Greg Ash, ventured up from Duluth, and one of his best shots captured a new class of Aurora named “Steve” by sky watchers in Alaska and Canada, a name that was recently given special status by NASA. It went as far as to create a title to turn the name into an acronym: Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement.
From what I know, Steve’s appearance marks the first time the phenomenon has appeared in the border country sky since this new type of Aurora was named last year.
No doubt Steve has been around since the dawn of time, yet its naming has become a new milepost for observers of the Northern Lights, benefiting from improvements in amateur camera technology that are rapidly creating a new wave of interest in sky observation.
In fact, this surging interest has caused another type of measurement in our northern nighttime sky: Darkness. So much that now there are a group of people setting a whole list of standards related to just how dark our sky is. And guess what?
The far northern Great Lakes region, including northeast Minnesota, is in the throws of being declared a special dark zone because there is far less light pollution up here. Some enthusiasts go as far as suggesting a “protected” status for parts of the region that may go as far as limiting the use of outside lights.
Feel free to add your own expletive here. I’ll continue once your words stop swirling about the room.
We don’t have an outside light at our cabin east of Ely, not because we don’t want one at times, but because our cabin never had a light installed. This may change soon enough, as nighttime lighting is a necessity especially when some dang bear comes knocking about your front stoop.
After our new light is installed this summer, it will be our choice not the keep it on all night long due to our ever-hoping desire to see the Northern Lights from our dock.
As far as the notion of the region ever becoming a tourist spot for the Aurora Borealis, forget about it. This far south we see the Northern Lights a fraction of the time that they occur farther north, where tourists have better than even chance of basking under a streaking sky.
Perhaps that’s why they are so special for folks like us, and especially for people like Greg Ash, who go the distance to be here when the satellite observations sound the alarm, as they did last Saturday evening when the Aurora tracking websites announced a high+ probability over the region.
Here’s Greg’s story in his own words.
“Space weather.com predicted the solar wind three days in advance, however it came in early and the ovation numbers were looking great in the early afternoon. A good friend wanted me to teach him how to photograph the Aurora. We were shooting our cameras due north on Eagles Nest Lake Number Three, when I noticed this blue ribbon overhead spanning from east to west and slightly behind me with green corduroy pulsating color adjacent to it. I knew this was something special, and I knew I had to capture it.”
Well, Greg did take a great picture of Steve, as you see here. Add dozens of photographers and watchers to that list and you have to admit that this nightly sport is here to stay.
(PHOTO CAPTION): Photo of Steve courtesy of Greg Ash.