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A Week of Glowing Things Above and Below on Oregon Coast

Published 05/10/22 at 6:45 PM PST
Story and Photos By Andre' GW Hagestedt

A Week of Glowing Things Above and Below on Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – As editor of this publication, you have to wander a lot of different beaches. This always results in a fair amount of adventures, and over time it's produced tens of thousands of photos of the Oregon coast. And adventures I had aplenty one week back in 2013, filled with things glowing in the waves and in the skies. (All photos Andre' GW Hagestedt / Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

To say it's awesome to combine astronomy with beach science would be an absolute understatement. I get positively giddy over stuff like this.

It was a week when a major fireball was seen all over the west coast, including the Oregon and Washington coast, as well as British Columbia and Montana. It was a week of meteor showers above, as well as glowing phytoplankton on the beaches and in the waves.

Another amazing element: this was all just before Halloween, in late October of that year. The coastlines of Oregon and Washington were rather warm during the days, and luckily not so chilly at night.

There was quite a run of clear nights out on the Oregon coast, especially as I zipped around Depoe Bay and Cape Foulweather, grabbing some absolutely ethereal photos. From atop the cape, I witnessed a dozen or so shooting stars. But capturing these is not easy. They don't necessarily cooperate with you and your camera. With the dozen or so long exposure shots I took up here, either the shooting stars were too faint to register in such a long exposure or – most infuriatingly – they happened in some other area of the sky, where my camera rig was not pointed.

The Orionids meteor showers were happening back then, though their peak was just before I got out there. Still, I kept seeing these lovely little streaks of light on my nocturnal wanderings. Each one causes a smile or even a cheer of sorts, even if you're all alone out there in the dead of night.

I did not witness the big fireball – I was apparently not out then. It happened at 5:55 a.m.,one Wednesday night that week, so I was finally heading to bed, I suppose.

Gleneden Beach

The American Meteor Society said at the time it had received as many as 234 reports of a major fireball over the Pacific Northwest and southwestern Canada. A scorching bummer I'd missed it – but in about eight years I would see just such a thing, and it was mind-blowing. March of 2021 I was walking in Portland about 2:30 a.m. when I saw this incredible fireball: Fireball Puts on Rare Show for a Few in Oregon, Washington - But Not Coastline

There was no sonic boom for the one back in 2013, said Jim Todd of Portland's OMSI. It is a rare event, however.

“A fireball is another term for a very bright meteor, generally brighter than magnitude -4, which is about the same magnitude of the planet Venus in the morning or evening sky,” Todd Oregon Coast Beach Connection at the time. “A bolide is a special type of fireball which explodes in a bright terminal flash at its end, often with visible fragmentation.”

Arch Cape

Closer to the ground, I was witness to lots of glowing sand that week in Gleneden Beach. A night or two later, a really dark beach in northern Lincoln City yielded some of the bioluminescent critters, but the tiny were sparks were very faint and few and far between. Glowing sand is caused by bioluminescent phytoplankton called dinoflagellates. They glow in the same way that fireflies glow, but they are microscopic.

I've seen this maybe a hundred times in my career of going to the beaches. The thrill is never gone. Without fail, I visit at least a few beaches every night that I'm out there if it's not raining) and I try looking for it. It never ceases to make me cheer with delight as those tiny, blue/green sparks erupt under my feet. Many times they're extremely faint, and unless you knew what to look for like me you'd have no clue it was happening underneath. Bioluminescent Phytoplankton: What Makes Glowing Sand On Oregon Coast, Washington

Huge amounts of glowing sand were spotted on the north Oregon coast around Arch Cape earlier in the month (near Cannon Beach), and some in Manzanita. It was much bigger then. Glowing sand does: waxes and wanes, and maybe it's not happening one beach but it is going on a couple of beach accesses away.

Sparks above and below while you're wandering the Oregon coast. Life on the beach doesn't get much better than that.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees nearly 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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