Skies shine over Kenai Peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001

As the aurora borealis crept across the mid-evening central Kenai Peninsula sky, this particular incarnation glowed with an uncommon color.

"They were actually bright red," said Kevin Hubbard, an air traffic controller at the Kenai Municipal Airport. "I'd never seen it red."

Hubbard said he saw the northern lights at 7:30 p.m. Monday from his home in Kenai. Hubbard, who has lived in Kenai for two years after moving from Brookings, Ore., said he was used to seeing lights of a different hue.

"All the other times I'd seen it, it was green," he said.

Normally, northern lights are seen as a faint lime green color. This is caused by particles from the sun penetrating Earth's atmosphere, causing a high-energy chemical reaction.

Mark Conde, assistant professor of physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said Monday night's fiery display was red because the particles entered the atmosphere with a lower energy level.

"Normally, particles entering the atmosphere react at an altitude of 100 kilometers," Conde said. "This means they have penetrated at a high rate of velocity."

He said a reaction at a higher altitude, such as the one from Monday night which occurred at 250 kilometers, has less energy and will cause the red coloring.

"There was a very large number of relatively low-energy reactions that weren't getting very deep into atmosphere," Conde said. "Imagine a really dense or low drizzle trickling down without much punch. That's what happened."

Monday night's crimson air show was followed by a kaleidoscopic encore early Tuesday morning.

Brian Gappa of Nikiski said he was working in the airport tower Tuesday about 7 a.m. when he saw the second show. He said he saw the greenish-blue light bursts hovering over the runway for about a half hour.

Originally from Tampa Bay, Fla., Gappa said he has lived in Alaska for only a year. He said seeing the northern lights so near was new for him.

"I've actually never seen them that close," he said. "This is the first one I've ever seen locally."

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