Fire, water, and ice

By Phil Plait | May 12, 2012 7:00 am

Because you simply cannot have enough incredibly beautiful photographs of aurorae in your life, here’s one taken near Tromso, Norway, on March 28, 2012 by photographer Helge Mortensen:

[Click to coronalmassejectenate, and you should.]

What a shot! Dead center in the picture is the Pleiades, the small cluster of bright stars. The bright object is the Moon, and to the lower right is Venus. If you look carefully, just above the horizon, lies Jupiter. To see it, start at the Pleiades, let your eyes move down and to the right to Venus, then keep going; Jupiter is in line with the clouds, just at the edge of the aurora itself.

I love how that one long swooshing ribbon of aurora cuts across the whole picture. See how it looks broader to the left, then narrower as you follow it to the right? That’s almost certainly perspective making it looks smaller. It’s probably something like 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the Earth’s surface and follows the Earth’s curve. The far end of it, near the horizon, is much farther away than the part at the upper left.

And despite all the drama occurring in the sky, my eye keeps getting drawn to the water. In this 10 second exposure, the slow movement of the water softens its appearance. Funny, too: I saw a face in the water and chuckled, then noted that Mortensen got a note from a friend who saw the face as well… or maybe a different one. But the one I see is pretty obvious. Do you see it too?

Mortensen has many more beautiful shots of aurorae on his 500px page, so head over there and soak up the glory of the active sky.

Image credit: Helge Mortensen, used by permission.


Related Posts:

The green fire of the aurora, seen from space
January’s aurora from way far north
Faith and begaurora
The rocket, the laser, and the northern lights

Comments (13)

Links to this Post

  1. perfect « weirdism | May 14, 2012
  1. Sathish

    Yes the face on the water it keeps on Drawing our attention again and again

  2. Didn’t notice it as first, too fascinated with the skyline, but yeah, the face stands out once you do notice it. Incredible photo and thanks for pointing out Jupiter.

  3. Another Phil

    Thanks for finding great pictures.

    you might be interested in this article from Ars Technica about the 1859 aurora;
    http://arstechnica.com/science/2012/05/1859s-great-auroral-stormthe-week-the-sun-touched-the-earth/

    seen on Ed Yong’s “Not exactly rocket science”

  4. Gary Ansorge

    The water reminds me of the Star Trek: next gen episode where Lt Yar gets killed by a pool of…black tar, or water…but that sky sure is pretty.

    Gary 7

  5. Georg

    I see two faces,
    one the lower in profile, the other above, en face.
    The first reminds of the caricatures of Napoleon III,
    the second looks like Olaf Gulbransson.

  6. Daver

    Odin? Beard, and what looks like a patch over his left eye?

  7. Naomi

    Gary Ansorge, I was just thinking it looked like the deuterium-laden stuff organic… stuff that replicated things from that one episode of Voyager…

    And I see the face too! Very neat. We’re going to Tromso next year! (Albeit during summer, so we won’t quite be getting this view…)

  8. Messier Tidy Upper

    @4. Gary Ansorge :

    The water reminds me of the Star Trek: next gen episode where Lt Yar gets killed by a pool of…black tar, or water…but that sky sure is pretty.

    That was exactly my first thought too – the “Skin of Evil” being named “Arminous” or something like that. You beat me to it! :-)

    Beautiful but more than a little spooky, such darkness to the water it could be oil or black basalt lava or tar. Weird looking stuff. In addition it looks so stark and, well cold that you can almost feel the chill coming off that photo.

  9. Crudely Wrott

    Phil, this is the sweetest photo you’ve posted in a long time. I only wish that I had been able to take it.

    I too see the face. It is of course, the Jesus, as all unexpected vaguely male faces are. Interestingly enough, it looks like there is a lump of something nasty about to impact its left eye.

    It’s a sign, I tells ya! A sign!

  10. flip

    FSM that’s gorgeous.

  11. Nigel Depledge

    Wonderful shot!

    Thnks, BA, for drawing it to our attention.

  12. Leon

    “I saw a face in the water and chuckled, then noted that Mortensen got a note from a friend who saw the face as well… or maybe a different one.”

    Maybe it’s the Dead Marshes!

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