Our last day in Yellowknife was more of the same (cold and not enough time for everything) with the added complication of finding another place to stay for a few hours,getting what little ready we could for our flight (we were still basically using everything) and trying to get several hours sleep after tying up loose ends in town.
Dr. Morrow was quite sick and should have stayed in the hotel sleeping but after a few hours rest, she wouldn’t be denied a last night…and what a wonderful night it would be. Temperatures at sunset were around -25 F and it wasn’t going to get warmer! We left the hotel earlier than normal to make sure we didn’t miss any of the display. The skies were clear and even as we left Yellowknife, we could see the auroral displays starting.
We arrived at Vee Lake around 9:30 pm and set up the fisheye, which started gathering light from the aurora immediately. The aurora tonight was a bit different in the way it intersected our sky. Instead of going directly overhead, it hung out a little closer to the north–perfect for getting the panoramas I desperately needed. We quickly moved to our favorite alcove and started shooting. There wasn’t time to do anything but level the tripod. My two-camera rig would have to stay packed up until things died down. It was so bright and there was so much of the sky that had aurora, that the exposure times were perfect! Long enough to allow some illumination of the foreground (the crescent moon helped too) and short enough to capture some structure in the lights. A start filter made the moon look like a starry beacon (it would have blown out anyway) and I just kept making pass after pass, taking about a dozen shots with each one.
Toward the beginning, we got two that were exceptional. One had more structure and color in the lower band over the island, but the other had a second arc of green above!
The crescent moon was up in the west and “hung” there for about 4 hours, just providing a tiny bit of light on the landscape. Where else can you see a crescent moon hang out that long as it slowly drifts to the north and ever so slowly descends toward the western horizon??? I had planned for just such an occurrence, which is why we stayed an extra few days. We were just extremely fortunate that the weather held and we got a favorable alignment of Earth’s magnetic field with the space weather environment to produce stunning aurora.
If you’d like to experience the aurora for yourselves in our dome, please come to our Windows to the Universe presentation May 23 and May 25, 2013. I’ll be presenting some of the images from my trip and discussing the aurora.