The skies of Norway provided superb nights of Northern Lights as I sailed the coast.
As I did last autumn, I was able to join a cruise along the Norwegian coast, instructing an aurora tour group from Road Scholar. We were on one of the Hurtigruten ferry ships that ply the coast each day, the m/s Nordnorge, on a 12-day trip from Bergen to Kirkenes at the top end of Norway, then back again to Bergen.
In all, we had three very clear nights, with good auroras on two of those nights. Several other nights had bright auroras but seen through broken cloud.
All observing and photography is done from the ship deck as we sailed among the fjords and sounds along the coast.
The best night was an all-sky display on March 14 seen from north of Tromsø as we sailed back south from our farthest north of 71° latitude.
Earlier, on the trip north, we had a great night as the aurora danced over the Lofoten Islands and we entered the Trollfjord. There is no finer scenery on Earth for framing the Lights.
As is the custom, the captain enters the fjord by searchlight, a scene depicted below.
I shot very few time-lapses on this trip (unlike my trip in October 2017, which you can see in a music video at a previous blog post).
However, here’s a short music video of two clips I did shoot, including a time-lapse of us approaching the Trollfjord entrance.
As we sailed south, we left the aurora behind. Our last look was of the arc of the auroral oval across the north, seen from south of Rorvik.
However, for several nights prior we had been under the auroral oval and the Lights had danced for us over the sky.
Norway is one of the world’s best sites for seeing the Northern Lights – the “nordlys” – and taking a Hurtigruten cruise along the coast is a great way to see the Lights and incredible scenery that changes by the minute.
Once again, the skies over Churchill, Manitoba delivered a wonderful show of Northern Lights during the 2018 aurora season.
As I do each year, in February I visited the Churchill Northern Studies Centre on the frozen shore of Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada to help present aurora watching sessions to tourists from around the world.
I shot these images and the time-lapses for the music video during my two-week stay February 7 to 18.
The music video incorporates sequences shot on three nights: February 15, 16, and 18. Visit the video’s Vimeo page where the description below the video contains all the details and tech information. I won’t repeat that all here.
It is viewable in up to 6K resolution, almost IMAX™ grade!
This year, finding clear skies was not a problem. We had clouds on only 2 nights of the 11 I stayed in Churchill. However, temperatures were typically -35° C with a brisk wind at times. There were extreme cold warnings out which, for Churchill, means EXTREME COLD! But that gave us very clear skies.
Often, tour participants are just as excited about seeing the stars and Milky Way as they are about checking the Lights off their lifetime bucket list.
The other challenge was on a couple of nights there was no significant aurora which, for Churchill under the auroral oval, was unusual. On other nights the Lights didn’t appear until about 3 a.m.
But on some nights the aurora danced as expected in the evening or midnight sky, covering the sky in a jaw-dropping display, and sometimes with vivid pinks fringing the curtains.
Here are some of my favourite still images from my 2018 stay.
I present a music video of time-lapses of the Northern Lights from Norway, shot from the ship the aptly named m/s Nordlys.
The Nordlys is one of many ferry ships in the Hurtigruten cruise line (the name means “fast route”) that ply the Norwegian coast, with daily departures from Bergen (at latitude 60° N) to Kirkenes at the top of Norway (at 71° N). At the top end of Norway you are under the auroral oval and almost always see some level of auroral activity, if skies cooperate.
This 11-day cruise was blessed with five clear nights with active auroras. I was serving as an instructor for a tour group of 30 from the U.S.-based Road Scholar tour company.
Sailing to the Northern Lights from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.
The final sequence is of the ship entering the Trollfjorden – a narrow fjord often entered in darkness under searchlight. This was a dramatic sight with the aurora dancing overhead.
For a selection of still images from this trip and from the second cruise I did immediately following, see my previous blog post, The Nordlys of Norway.
All exposures were about 1 to 1.3 seconds only, to minimize blurring during each exposure, shot with the Nikon D750 at ISO 6400, and with mostly the Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8.
One sequence is with the Rokinon 12mm full-frame fish-eye at f/2.8. Intervals were 1 to 2 seconds, providing a rapid cadence.
In assembly I applied a 4-frame blur to smooth the frame-to-frame motion. All processing with Adobe Camera Raw and assembly with the Mac app Time-Lapse from MicroProjects.ca (an app no longer available – a pity).
Music is by the Hollywood soundtrack artists AudioMachine, and is used with permission under “social media” licence. It is the track “Above and Beyond” from their album Tree of Life.
For the past three weeks I chased the “nordlys” – the Northern Lights – along the coast of Norway up to a latitude of 71° North.
As I type this blog our ship, the Hurtigruten ferry the m/s Nordlys, is rocking and rolling as we cross the Froy Sea off the southern coast of Norway on the way south to Bergen.
We’re completing a cruise up and down the Norwegian coast, the second of two consecutive 11-day cruises I took this autumn as an enrichment lecturer on aurora cruise tour packages offered by the U.S.-based Road Scholar tour company.
It’s been a superb chase up and down the coast – twice! – to catch the Lights. We got a total of 8 clear nights of aurora out of 22, not a bad tally for this time of year.
Here’s a gallery of images, all shot from the ship using a fast lens and high ISO speeds to keep exposures down to about 1 second to minimize blurring from the ship movement.
A participant in the Road Scholar aurora tour in October 2017 watches the Northern Lights from the aft deck of the m/s Nordlys on the Norway coast. The Big Dipper is at centre
Aurora tourists watch and photograph the Northern Lights from the deck of the m/s Nordlys in October 2017 on the coast of Norway.
Watching the Northern Lights from the deck of the m/s Nordlys on October 24, 2017 from the coast of Norway. This is a single exposure of 1 second with the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
The Northern Lights exhibiting the classic pink colour on the lower edge of the curtains from glowing nitrogen molecules, in addition to the main green tint from oxygen. Taken from the Hurigruten ship the m/s Nordlys north of Tromsø on October 24, 2017. This is a single 1-second exposure with the Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400. Taken as part of a time-lapse sequence.
The aurora boralis over a bridge in Norway, as per the legend of “Bifrost,” the bridge between heaven and Earth in Norse mythology. Taken from the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordlys on October 23, 2017, on the journey between Svolvaer and Tromsø. Taken with the Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400 for 1.6 seconds, as part of a 450-frame time-lapse.
The sweep of the auroral oval from a latitude of 70° north in the Barent’s Sea off the north coast of Norway, on October 26, 2017. The curtains exhibit a lower pink fringe from nitrogen. Taken from the forward deck of the m/s Nordlys This is a single 2-second exposure with the 12mm Rokinon full-frame fish-eye lens at f/2.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
Auroral curtains from the deck of the m/s Nordlys on October 25, 2017, looking northeast toward the Big Dipper at centre. Arcturus is setting at left.
Auroral curtains from the deck of the m/s Nordlys on October 25, 2017, looking northeast toward the Big Dipper at right. Arcturus is setting a left of centre.
The Hurtigruten ship the m/s Kong Harold sailing south and apparently into the aurora, on the Norwegian coast, as we passed the ship as we sailed north.
The scene as the m/s Nordlys exits the narrow Trollfjorden fjord, with the ship’s spotlights lighting the walls of the narrow fjord and with the aurora dancing. Ahead lies the winter sky with Taurus and the Pleiades rising. This was a magical moment indeed, one of the best of the Norway cruise. This is a single 0.8 sec exposure with the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
Aurora in the moonlight from a nearly Full Moon over the Barent’s Sea off the north coast of Norway, November 5, 2017. This was a very weak Kp 0 to Kp 1 display, yet still showed up in the moonlight. The Moon was in Taurus, with the Pleiades at above the Moon and the Aldebaran to the left of the Moon. This is a single 0.5-second exposure with the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400. Taken from the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordlys.
A dim but photogenic aurora on November 7, from the coast of Norway on the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordlys, in a view looking south to Pegasus and Andromeda, and over off-shore islands. The rising waning Moon off frame to the left illuminates the sky and landscape. This is a single 1-second exposure with the Sigma 14mm Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
Aurora in the moonlight from a nearly Full Moon over the Barent’s Sea off the north coast of Norway, November 5, 2017. This was a very weak Kp 0 to Kp 1 display, yet still showed up in the moonlight. The Moon is off frame to the right. The Big Dipper is left of centre — we are looking almost due north. Taken from Deck 5, port side, of the Hurtigruten ship the m/s Nordlys This is a single 0.5-second exposure with the 14mm Sigma Art lens at f/1.8 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
A wisp of aurora appears in a break in the clouds as the m/s Nordlys enters Trollfjorden fjord in the Lofoten Islands in Norway, on November 8, 2017. It was actually raining when I took this shot but a major auroral storm was underway and we got a brief glimpse of a curtain as we entered this spectacular and narrow fjord. Then the rain clouds closed in. The bright lights are the ship’s searchlights lighting the walls of the narrow fjord. The white at top is the ship’s smoke. This was from the aft deck looking astern. This was with the 12mm Rokinon fish-eye lens at f/2.8 for 1.6 seconds with the Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
One of the most memorable nights was on the first cruise when we sailed into the narrow Trollfjorden fjord in the dark with just the ship’s spotlights lighting the fjord walls only metres away from the ship. Above us, the Northern Lights danced. Unforgettable!
The Hurtigruten line operates daily sailings up and down the coast, from Bergen to Kirkenes, up into the auroral oval, which in this part of the world lies at a high latitude above the Arctic Circle. However, the warm gulf stream current keeps the water from freezing and the coast far milder than would be expected for such a high latitude.
This is a trip that should be on the bucket list for all aurora chasers.
October has brought clear skies and some fine celestial sights. Here’s a potpourri of what was up from home.
We’ve enjoyed some lovely early autumn weather here in southern Alberta, providing great opportunities to see and shoot a series of astronomical events.
On October 5, Venus and Mars appeared a fraction of a degree apart in the dawn twilight. Venus is the brightest object, just above dimmer but red Mars. This was one of the closest planet conjunctions of 2017. Mars will appear much brighter in July and August 2018 when it makes its closest approach to Earth since 2003.
Satellites: The Space Station
The Space Station made a series of ideal evening passes in early October, flying right overhead from my site at latitude 51° N. I captured it in a series of stacked still images, so it appears as a dashed line across the sky. In reality it looks like a very bright star, outshining any other natural star. Here, it appears to fly toward the rising Moon.
Often appearing brighter than even the ISS, Iridium satellite flares can blaze brighter than even Venus at its best. One did so here, above, in another time-lapse of a pair of Iridium satellites that traveled in parallel and flared at almost the same time. But the orientation of the reflective antennas that create these flares must have been better on the left Iridium as it really shot up in brilliance for a few seconds.
Little in the sky beats a fine aurora display and we’ve had several of late, despite the Sun being spotless and nearing a low ebb in its activity. The above shot is a composite stack of 200 images, showing the stars circling the celestial pole above the main auroral arc, and taken on Friday the 13th.
This frame, from some 1300 I shot this night, October 13, captures the main auroral arc and a diffuse patch of green above that pulsed on and off.
You can see the time-lapse here in my short music video on Vimeo.
Friday the 13th Aurora from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.
It’s in 4K if your monitor and computer are capable. It nicely shows the development of the aurora this night, from a quiescent arc, through a brief sub-storm outburst, then into pulsing and flickering patches. Enjoy!
What all these scenes have in common is that they were all shot from home, in my backyard. It is wonderful to live in a rural area and to be able to step outside and see these sites easily by just looking up!
I’ve assembled a music video of time-lapse clips and still images of the fine aurora of September 27, with Steve making a cameo appearance.
The indicators this night didn’t point to a particularly great display, but the sky really performed.
The Northern Lights started low across the north, in a very active classic arc. The display then quietened.
But as it did so, and as is his wont, the isolated arc that has become known as Steve appeared across the south in a sweeping arc. The Steve arc always defines the most southerly extent of the aurora.
Steve faded, but then the main display kicked up again and began to fill the sky with a post-sub-storm display of pulsing rays and curtains shooting up to the zenith. Only real-time video can really capture the scene as the eye sees it, but the fast time-lapses I shot do a decent job of recording the effect of whole patches of sky turning on and off.
The display ended with odd pulsing arcs in the south.
Here’s the video, available in 4K resolution.
Alberta Aurora (Sept. 27, 2017) from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.
The Northern Lights dance in the solstice sky over a prairie lake.
This was a surprise display. Forecasts called for a chance of Lights on Saturday, June 24, but I wasn’t expecting much.
Nevertheless, I headed to a nearby lake (Crawling Lake) to shoot north over the water, not of the Lights, but of noctilucent clouds, a phenomenon unique to the summer solstice sky and our latitudes here on the Canadian prairies.
But as the night darkened (quite late at solstice time) the aurora began to appear in the deepening twilight.
I started shooting and kept shooting over the next four hours. I took a break from the time-lapses to shoot some panoramas, such as the headline image at top, capturing the sweep of the auroral oval over the lake waters.
Just on the horizon you can see some noctilucent clouds (NLCs) as well – clouds so high they are lit by the Sun all night long. NLCs sit at the same height as the bottom of the auroral curtains. But they appear here lower and much farther away, which they likely were, sitting farther north than the auroral band.
I also shot this 360° panorama (above) capturing the arc of the aurora and of the Milky Way. This is a stitch of 8 segments with a 14mm lens mounted in portrait mode.
I’ve assembled the several time-lapse sequences I shot into a short music video. Check it out on Vimeo here. Click through to the Vimeo page for more technical information on the video sequences.
As always click HD, and relax and enjoy the dancing lights over the calm waters of a prairie lake on a summer evening.