By early 1958, under the auspices of the International Geophysical Year, the National Research Council had compiled a list of amateur contributors to an auroral research program. The period of maximum solar activity in an 11-year cycle had peaked in late 1957, and Helen Sawyer Hogg reported in her Toronto Star column of June 7th, 1958 that the relative sunspot number for December 24th and 25th was 355. This was the highest value ever observed, exceeding the value of 353 on May 17th 1778.
The driving force behind the Northern Lights reporting program was Dr. Peter Millman of NRC, who had canvassed for participants in the program in an article in the Journal of the RASC and in his own Toronto Telegram newspaper column on July 7th, 1957.
After the night of February 10th-11th, 1958 Millman received a wave of Northern Lights reports from across Canada, combined here. The timing was auspicious, just ten days after the launch of the first American Explorer 1 satellite, which discovered the Van Allen radiation belts. Millman must have had an idea something was going on, because one of his CBC radio programs for the 'University of the Air' was was interfered with by the solar flare on the night of February 10th.
The skies that night have been remembered as the Great Red Aurora, one of the greatest Northern Lights displays of all time. They were visible from as far south as Mexico. This night's aurorae were not singled out for mention in Millman's or Hogg's newspaper columns. The David Dunlap Observatory's logbooks don't show any observing that night, although the Moon was passing last quarter.
|Millman Aurora Map, 11 Feb 1958 (PDF)||2.44 MB|