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Living in Belleville, Ontario (north shore of Lake Ontario, about the midpoint running east-west), in the mid 1960's I recall two incidences between roughly November 1965 and February 1968 when the aurora borealis was so bright and high in the sky that we noticed from our living room, above the houses just across the street.

Even seeing the aurora in the vicinity of Belleville today, even in a darkness preserve, seems outrageously far fetched as it is never visible a couple of hundred miles. The notion of detecting it from inside a lighted room, even faintly, likewise approaches absurdity for most of the populated regions of Canada.

It is updated several times hourly and of course varies with solar conditions, but here is a 30 minute Aurora Forecast projected from solar flux currently detected at Earth's L1 Lagrangian point (with a history of the past 24 hours). As is clearly apparent, the aurora is almost never visible anywhere near the locale of Belleville, Ontario.

Is it possible to identify the solar events or effects that caused the aurora to be visible so far south?

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    Earth Science SE good candidate to answer this if response is thin here. – AllInOne Dec 27 '18 at 21:55
  • Are you sure it was an aurora? There were several bright comets that passed in the sixties including Comet Ikeya-Seki (Oct 1965), described on space.com as "the brightest comet of the 20th century" (Auroras can be visible further south, but the events I witnessed were later). – bgwiehle Dec 27 '18 at 23:21
  • From what I know of this phenomenon, and your assertion that its super rare as far south as you were, I believe the most likely explanation for both is a large solar flare. However, I'm unaware of any kind of solar flare event tracking that goes back that far, to be able to back this supposition up with historical data for you. General activity is easy to quantify by counting sunspots, but I'm not so sure about large flares. – T.E.D. Dec 27 '18 at 23:48
  • I remember one of these two very well, it was surprisingly bright and easy to notice from indoors looking out through a window; I've wanted to ask this question as well. It's too late to migrate this, but I think you can ask a new question in either Astronomy SE or Space Exploration SE depending on how the question is written. People were actively studying the ionosphere, and studying and photographing the Sun routinely, and certainly were aware of the connection between the two, there must be records that can help. – uhoh Mar 2 at 12:47
  • @T.E.D. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbiting_Solar_Observatory It looks like OSO-3 was monitoring solar flares and may have been active for the May 1967 aurora comment. – uhoh Mar 2 at 13:03
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It is unlikely that identifying the particular event that caused the aurora is going to be possible. Solar monitoring was in its infancy in the 1960s.

However, while rare, it is certainly possible for aurorae to be visible at latitudes even further south than Belleville.


From the Wikipedia page on Aurora:

Auroras are produced when the magnetosphere is sufficiently disturbed by the solar wind that the trajectories of charged particles in both solar wind and magnetospheric plasma, mainly in the form of electrons and protons, precipitate them into the upper atmosphere (thermosphere/exosphere) due to Earth's magnetic field, where their energy is lost.

The first direct measurement of the strength of the solar wind was made by the spacecraft Luna 1 in 1959. You can read more about the history of our knowledge of the subject on the Solar Wind Wikipedia page.


At least one aurora was visible even further south, from Washington DC, in the time range you remember, and was reported in the Washington Post on 27 May 1967:

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    Great find with that newspaper clipping - as well as the note that the Naval Research Laboratory had sufficient advance notice to arrange to film it. However the specific event(s) that I recall were in the winter because the occurrence was well after dark and about 9 in the evening - as it was before my 9:00 to 9:30 bedtime. ;-) – Pieter Geerkens Dec 28 '18 at 5:10
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    @PieterGeerkens I found reports of quite a few other events in that time period, but the southern extent is rarely mentioned. The May 1967 aurora is quite famous for being one of the occasions when we nearly stumbled into nuclear war. Fortunately, on that occasion, cooler heads prevailed! However, I have seen reports of aurora being visible as far south as Arizona so I don't doubt your recollections for a moment. – sempaiscuba Dec 28 '18 at 14:52

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