In Search of Northern Lights – Two Nights To Go

Duke Johnson

As I write this, it’s been 50 to 60 degrees F for about a week and I must say that’s nice! Still, I’d go back in a moment so that I could go out at night and be embraced by the dancing northern lights as they appeared on our last day…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Part of sequence taken with fish-eye lens before the snow.

After Will’s departure, Dr. Morrow’s cold continued to get worse in part because we’d been keeping very difficult hours, only getting about 4 hours sleep per night (I mean per day since we were out nearly all night) for a week or so. I was working at processing photos for our blog and to help inform the decisions we might make the next night and she kept her promise to keep our science outreach blog updated in a timely manner. We squeezed in just a few daytime activities, only taking an hour or so each day.

We were excited about the last two nights because there had been extra solar activity just before and we were expecting that some of the more dense solar wind would be hitting the magnetosphere those last nights. The night of March 13, morning of the 14 was going well. The aurora didn’t start up until about 12:45 am but was beautiful when it did. After quickly setting up the fish-eye lens in our alcove, we hurried to our favorite spot about 15 minutes away. The display was utterly amazing! The lights moved quickly, danced, shimmered, and did it all again but in wonderfully new ways. We hated being in the car for that trip. After we stopped and quickly got our gear out, we had a slight break in the action. Perfect.

Another image taken with fish-eye lens before snow.

We quickly began hiking the 5-10 minutes necessary to get to our favorite spot. It was a great location because there was enough structure that you could shoot in nearly any direction and have a good foreground. As we stopped and set up, we noticed that in the time it took for us to walk in, the sky had gone from being completely open and transparent to completely overcast. We waited five minutes and the snow began. We didn’t believe it to be possible, but there it was. We waited about a half hour, but it just got worse. Disappointed, we hiked back to our car and drove back to pick up the fish-eye. Luckily, the snow had taken a bit longer to reach it, so we actually had a good sequence of about an hours worth of test images for the dome.  These two shots were taken 5 minutes apart very near the beginning of the run. This sequence of about 200 images were the only images we got that night.

Fish-eye covered in snow. If you look closely you can see the aurora.

By the time we picked up the camera, the fish-eye lens had a good bit of snow on it. We waited about another hour and then gave up. Even with the light snow falling and uniform cloudiness, you could still just make out the glow from the northern lights above. Drat! If you look closely, you may be able to see the northern lights in the middle right of this final image.

We went back to the room knowing we’d have to move as we hadn’t secured a place for the last day/night. Time to get a few hours sleep and trust that the big particle shower that was forecast would get here for the next day (our last). We so hoped for a great sendoff, similar to the one Will got on his last day of the 12th.


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