Standing Under the Auroral Oval (2015)
By: Alan Dyer
Tags: Alan Dyer, amazing sky, astrophotography, Aurora, aurora borealis, aurora oval, Churchill, Churchill Northern Studies Centre, CNSC, Manitoba, Northern Lights, Red aurora, space weather, spaceweather
|Camera:||Canon EOS 6D|
The Northern Lights dance overhead each night from Churchill, Manitoba.
If you really want to see the Northern Lights, don’t wait for them to come to you. Instead, you go to them.
For the second year in a row I’ve been able to participate as an instructor during week-long aurora courses and tours at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre on the shore of Hudson Bay. The site is at 58° latitude, far enough north to place us directly under the main auroral oval, the prime location for viewing the Northern Lights.
If it’s clear, a view of dancing arcs and curtains of aurora is almost guaranteed. Two nights ago we had a marvellous display, despite official indicators of aurora strength and geomagnetic activity all reading low or even zero.
Still, the Lights came out and danced across the sky.
The top photo is selfie of me standing the display in a 360° all-sky image shot for use in a planetarium. The research centre building is at left. The view is generally looking north.
This view is from the second floor deck of the centre, usually a bit more sheltered from the wind. It allows a good view to the north and east, where displays typically start, as they did this night. Feb. 13.
As the display developed the curtain rose up into the sky to arc from east to west across heavens.
This image, also a 360° fish-eye image taken with an 8mm lens, shows the display at its best, with rippling curtains hanging overhead. It’s part of a time-lapse sequence.
The next night, February 14, was marked by fainter but an unusually red aurora, appropriate for Valentine’s Day perhaps. Or the 50th anniversary of our red and white Canadian flag.
The sky was a little hazier, but the aurora shone through, initially only with a red and orange tint, colours we could just see with the unaided eye – the long exposures of the camera really bring out the colours the eye can only just perceive when the aurora is dim.
The green curtains, seen here in the distance, did arrive a few minutes later, lighting up the curtains in the more usual green colour, with just upper fringes of red.
It seems the red is from low-energy electrons exciting oxygen only in the upper atmosphere. Only later did the more energetic electrons arrive to excite the green oxygen transition that occurs at lower altitudes.
With luck, I’ll have more nights to stand under the auroral oval and look up in wonder at the Northern Lights.
– Alan, February 15 2015 / © 2015 Alan Dyer / www.amazingsky.com