Professor Tom Balonek photographed the aurora borealis Tuesday night on campus.

Professor Tom Balonek photographed the aurora borealis Tuesday night on campus.

Professor Tom Balonek and students in his Solar System Astronomy and his Astronomical Techniques courses were lucky enough Tuesday night to observe the aurora borealis from campus.

Students in the Solar System course were conducting observations of the stars and Milky Way when the aurora occurred.  They interrupted their assigned observations to view the rapidly changing glowing arc in the northern sky.

The course deals with the exploration of the solar system through ground-based observations and spacecraft missions.

Several lectures in the course investigate the interaction of the sun’s solar wind with the atmospheres of the planets. The students who witnessed the display got to see this interaction, not just read about it.

As part of their coursework students in the Astronomical Techniques course are studying astrophotography, and last night’s natural light display, also referred to as the Northern lights, proved to be the perfect subject.

For many of the students, it was the first time they had observed an aurora.

Around 8:45 p.m. Balonek used his Nikon D600 and a 15-second exposure to capture the photo attached to this story. (See full-scale image.) He described the auroral display as the best he’d seen in a decade.

The photo was taken from a dark location on the old campus golf course, not far from the president’s residence, Raab House, looking down toward the O’Connor Campus Center and Andrews Hall.

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