Waves of Northern Lights in Time-Lapse


Aurora - Feb 7, 2014 (Fisheye #3)

Watch waves of aurora wash over the sky rising out of the west to swirl overhead.

This was the spectacle we saw Friday night at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, as the northern lights filled our sky. I set up my camera on the east side of the main building, out of the bitterly cold west wind. The fish-eye lens is aimed west but its view takes in most of the sky.

The bright object at lower left is the Moon.

The still image above is a frame from the 349-frame time-lapse movie below.

Each frame is a 7-second exposure at f/3.5 and ISO 1250. The interval is 1 second.

The movie covers about 45 minutes of time, compressed into 30 seconds. It shows the aurora peaking in intensity, then fading out behind the ever-present thin cloud drifting through all night.

What amazes me are the waves and loops of auroral curtains that come at us from the west (bottom behind the building) then swirl around the zenith overhead. They move off to the east and north at the top of the frame.

Even watching this in real-time the scene was astonishing. The curtains rippled so quickly, forming and reforming over the sky, you didn’t know where to look. As the image above shows, people just stood amazed.

— Alan, February 9, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

P.S.: You can view a better-grade version of the movie at my Flickr site.

Aurora in Orion


Aurora - Feb 7, 2014 (Observers on the Deck)

Last night, February 7, the Northern Lights danced for us again, starting with a curtain of green and pink in the south.

Our second tour group at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre has been here a couple of days, all under what looked like hopeless cloud. But last night the clouds cleared unexpectedly to reveal a moonlit winter sky.

I completed my evening talk all about the Sun and aurora, during which we were monitoring the auroral activity indicators on SpaceWeather.com. Sure enough, about 9:30 pm, right on cue and perfectly timed for convenience, a curtain of light began to dance across the southern sky, appearing in Orion. The gibbous Moon is just off frame to the right. We began the viewing from the Centre’s second floor viewing deck which looks east and southeast.

Aurora - Feb 7, 2014 (Over the Rocket Range)

This view shows the auroral curtain over the derelict launch towers of the Churchill Rocket Range. Built in 1957 for the International Geophysical Year, the Rocket Range was in use until the mid-1980s as Canada’s only launch facility. Hundreds of sounding rockets, many of them Canadian-built Black Brants, were launched from here, shooting up into the ionosphere on nights just like this to study the aurora.

Orion is at right. While we saw this curtain in our southern sky, others farther south in Canada were seeing it in their northern sky. The greens were easy to see with the eye but the magentas were visible only by the camera and I have punched up their intensity here.

Aurora - Feb 7, 2014 (Zenith Curtains)

This night, as the aurora display developed it moved north to the zenith, shown here, with the sky also lit by moonlight and with some high haze. But the combination makes for a wonderful abstract swirl of light and colour.

– Alan, February 8, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Orion over the Rocket Range


Orion over the Churchill Rocket Range

Orion and Sirius shine over the abandoned launch towers of the Churchill Rocket Range.

This was the view Monday night, during a lull in the aurora display when I took a few moments to shoot the stars. You can see Orion at centre, with his trio of Belt stars pointing left and down to Sirius, the Dog Star in Canis Major, and the brightest star in the night sky. The Belt stars point up and right to Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus the bull.

They look closer to the horizon than you might be used to as this is from 58° north latitude.

These winter stars shine above some of the launch structures of the old Churchill Rocket Range. Built in 1957 for the International Geophysical Year, the Rocket Range served for many years as Canada’s only launch facility. No satellites were launched here. Instead the towers were used to launch sub-orbital sounding rockets into the ionosphere to explore the aurora.

Some of the rockets were repurposed military missiles, like Nikes and Aerobees. But many were Black Brants, civilian research rockets still being built in Winnipeg by Bristol Aerospace. 

But no Black Brants take off from here now. The Rocket Range was shut down in the mid-1980s as Canada’s space program focused on satellites, the Space Shuttle, and sending astronauts into space. Attempts by private companies to revive the site have all failed and the structures are now becoming derelict, being too costly to remove. 

– Alan, February 5, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Awestruck Under the Aurora


Aurora - Feb 3-4, 2014 (Fisheye #2)

The sky simply does not get any more amazing than this, as the Northern Lights dance across the heavens.

On the last night for our first aurora tour group of the season, the sky performed perfectly. Clouds cleared to reveal a star-filled winter sky, and after the evening talks and farewell drinks, the aurora began to appear. First it was a bright arc across the north, prompting me to try some self-portraits, as below.

Aurora - Feb 3-4, 2014 (Self Portrait)

But at about 2 a.m. a diffuse arc across the zenith exploded into activity, with rapidly waving and weaving curtains.

Aurora - Feb 3-4, 2014 (Fisheye #1)

Everyone was awestruck. Some cheered and hollered. Others just watched in stunned silence. Some were busy with cameras. Others just enjoyed the view of a lifetime.

Aurora - Feb 3-4, 2014 (Fisheye #3)

It was a cold night, but the aurora kept performing in waves, dimming for a time – allowing us to retreat to the warm cafeteria for hot chocolate. Then the display would brighten again to the west and a new wave of intensity would sweep across the sky to the east. 

Aurora - Feb 3-4, 2014 (Orion & Silhouette)

You didn’t know quite where to look to take it all in. The sight was overwhelming. Here the curtains ripple through Orion, Taurus and Auriga, all setting into the west.

Aurora - Feb 3-4, 2014 (Thru the Dome)

The Churchill Northern Studies Centre has a new building opened in 2011 that is ideally set up for aurora watching. The building can go dark, and is located far enough from Churchill that local light pollution is not an issue. On the roof is a plexiglas dome where several people can view the Northern Lights and the entire sky in shirtsleeve comfort. The image is good enough for wide-angle photography. Sheer luxury!

Aurora - Feb 3-4, 2014 (Zenith Curtains)

But there’s nothing like being outside on a cold Arctic night, looking up and seeing this sight – thin curtains of light twisting and turning more quickly than you can take in and comprehend. It is one of nature’s greatest shows. And what a fantastic place to see it.

– Alan, February 4, 2014  / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

 

Aurora Shining Through the Clouds


Churchill Aurora Feb 2-3, 2014

Tonight the aurora shone so brightly for a time it was visible through the cloud.

Here at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre we’ve been battling clouds all week. But on several nights the clouds have cleared for 30 minutes or more, enough to give us glimpses of the aurora and stars. Tonight, February 2/3, the clouds never did clear away enough for a great view. This was as good as it got, with the Northern Lights shining through haze and cloud but nevertheless filling the sky.

Remarkably, this was on a night when the usual indicators of auroral activity were registering all quiet. This shows the benefit of traveling north to stand right under the auroral oval, the zone of maximum activity. In this case I’m at 58° North, in Churchill, Manitoba. Even on a quiet night the Churchill sky can be filled with curtains of dancing colours.

– Alan, February 3, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer

 

Underneath the Northern Lights


Churchill Aurora Feb 1-2, 2014 #1

Our tour group to see the Northern Lights finally saw what they traveled north to experience – the aurora borealis dancing across the sky.

This week and next I’m helping to lead some tour groups who have come to Churchill, Manitoba to see the aurora. We’ve been here 3 nights so far but last night was the first with clearing skies and when the Northern Lights appeared above us.

Our home base is the beautiful Churchill Northern Studies Centre, far enough from the main townsite to give us dark skies. Being able to sleep, eat and take in lectures (or for me, give lectures) right where we can see the aurora is a tremendous luxury and convenience. The Centre is perfectly set up for aurora viewing, with a rooftop dome, and the ability to “go dark” with all lights off. 

Here in Churchill, on the shores of Hudson Bay, we are at a latitude of 58° north. But critically, we are right under the usual position of the auroral oval, the main band of Northern Lights that circles the world at high latitudes. 

Churchill Aurora Feb 1-2, 2014 #3

As such, even though last night the various aurora and magnetic field indicators were registering a quiet display with little disturbance in the field, we still saw a beautiful display. It wasn’t very active but did display curtains and rays shooting up to the zenith.

Churchill Aurora Feb 1-2, 2014 #4

As seen here, for much of the time the main band of aurora was actually in the south. That’s Jupiter glowing through the aurora and thin clouds at upper right.

We’ve been fighting clouds all week but last night skies cleared for long enough and it seemed at just the right time to coincide with the brightest outburst of this display. After I took these images, the aurora died down to a more diffuse glow then the clouds thickened in again. By then it was 3 am and we all retired to our rooms. 

– Alan, February 2, 2014 / © 2014 Alan Dyer