Powell Aurora (C)Vic Winter/ ICSTARS Astronomy.
The Powell Observatory Aurora of November 8, 1991

It was a perfect Friday evening. A day past new moon with clear skies and temperatures falling into the lower 40's. I had expected company at the ASKC's Powell Observatory on such a perfect observing night but arrived to a locked gate and closed dome.  
After opening up the facility and powering up the 29 inch scope (since replaced with a 30 inch) I set about my task for the evening. Saturn was well placed near the southern sky meridian and at its best for photography. The sky slowing was changing from deep blue to black as I popped off some exposures. As I waited for the seeing to settle down I heard the soft crunching of someone walking on the rocks outside the observatory. Peering out the dome slit I spotted a tall, shadowy figure in the fading twilight. After a cautious hello I learned that he was not a member, but someone that had just dropped in to see the facility. Needing to take a break, I descended the ladder and went outside to check out the visitor. 
Up from Ft. Scott, Kansas, I learned that this "new guy" was an amateur astronomer and had heard about the observatory from a friend. His name was Rick Singmaster and we instantly struck up a conversation about all sorts of subjects. Rick would soon join the ASKC and go on to start the highly successful  StarMaster Portable Telescopes company. 
As we talked my gaze turned towards the north and the Kansas City skyglow. The normally white dome of light had a strange greenish cast and after watching it for a moment we both thought we could see movement! As twilight faded small, faint patches of pink started to appear above the green cast and we both knew that we were witnessing aurora. The Northern Lights had ventured south to Kansas City! 
I dashed into the observatory and placed a long distance call to fellow observer Charles Douglas and alerted him to the news. He said he would call as many people as possible and then take a look himself. 
By 8 p.m. people had begun to arrive and the aurora had really started to put on a show. Reds, greens, oranges, yellows covered the northern sky. Patches of color would appear, change shape and disappear. Red spikes were, at times, well above Polaris. At times activity appeared directly east and even extended as far south as Orion in the southeast. An intense arc of white started in the east and within seconds had spread overhead and down to the horizon in the west. The storm then seemed to decrease in intensity and by 9:30 p.m. there was barely a trace of any activity. We all headed into the observatory warmup/classroom and treated ourselves to a warm cup of coffee. 
As Nick Reuss later commented, "We should have noticed the red glow streaming in under the door it was so bright!".  I had wandered over to the door every 10 minutes or so just to check for further activity with no luck. This time I think my scream made everyone in the room jump as I opened the door. A 60 degree long tower of red and orange rose from the northwest horizon and lit up the sky. I recovered my coffee mug a week later when I found it in the bushes… laying exactly where I had thrown it while rushing for my cameras. Two hours of the most amazing displays of aurora ever seen in the Kansas City area followed. News reports and research showed that the aurora had not been easily seen in this area since a storm back in the 1950's. Time signals from Boulder on WWV were almost impossible to hear due to the interference from the aurora. For a time the green region near the horizon was alive with shimmering curtains that moved and changed shape second to second. Unfortunately, this storm also faded shortly after midnight. We watched the skies until nearly dawn for another storm but nothing but faint glimmers appeared. Mother nature had put on a great show that rocked a calm Friday evening. We are still waiting for a curtain call here in the Midwest.- Vic Winter 

Back to the Powell Aurora Page.
March 24, 1991 - Scopeville, Kansas Aurora.
Journey to other Aurora Pages.
Back to the ICSTARS Aurora Section.
Return to the ICSTARS Solar Section