One of the sights we really wanted to see while in Alaska was the Aurora Borealis. We got to Alaska on April 9, and while it did get dark in the evenings, we did not see the Aurora. During the bulk of our time there, it was too light to see the Aurora. On August 27, toward the end of our stay, we stayed up late to see a total lunar eclipse, and while the lunar eclipse was occurring in the eastern sky, the Aurora filled the western sky.
Auroras are natural colored light displays, which are usually observed in the night sky, particularly in the polar zones. In northern latitudes, it is known as the Aurora Borealis, named after the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for north wind, Boreas. The Aurora often appears as a greenish glow (or sometimes a faint red), as if the sun were rising from an unusual direction. The Aurora Borealis is also called the northern lights, as it is only visible in the North sky from the Northern Hemisphere. The Aurora Borealis most often occurs from September to October and from March to April.
This is one of my first attempts to photograph the Aurora. It’s a 3 second exposure at ISO 800.
Typically the aurora appears either as a diffuse glow or as "curtains" that approximately extend in the east-west direction. At some times, they form "quiet arcs"; at others ("active aurora"), they evolve and change constantly.
This one is a 10 second exposure at ISO 800. You can also see the Big Dipper in the upper right, and even make out the horse and rider, also known as Mizar and Alcor
I settled on a 10 second exposure and tried to include the Big Dipper and some part of the nearby landscape for reference.
This is one of my favorites since you can see a bit of red toward the bottom. The lights would glow and shimmer across the sky for several minutes, then they would fade. We thought the show was over, but in a few minutes they would come back and dance across the sky.
A few nights later, on September 1, we got another light show. Here’s a series of shots taken at a 20 second exposure at ISO 400. You can get a feel for the kind of movement that the lights make.
One more shot and then we’re done for today…It’s also a 20 second exposure at ISO 400. It shows how bright the Aurora can be and also gives a hint of other colors besides green.
If you are going to Alaska, or if you live in the far northern states you might be able to see the Aurora. The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks maintains a web page where you can find a daily forecast of the probability of aurora activity at http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast/ .
We are presently in Silver Springs, Florida…back where we started from on March 5!
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