Prairie Light: Alberta Aurora

By Phil Plait | May 16, 2012 10:57 am

Every now and again my work piles up and I can feel that edge of panic start to set in.

Then I saw a video and my brain let out a nice long sigh (brains are remarkable that way): Alberta Aurora – Prairie Light, a lovely time lapse that has better-than-usual resolution and color, taken as the April 23/24 solar storm swept over the Earth.

What you see in an aurora depends in part on the angle of the Earth’s magnetic field relative to the air; the geomagnetic field guides particles from the Sun’s outbursts into our atmosphere. If you are seeing this from far enough away, you get those sheets and ribbons, the interaction seen from the side. But at 1:50 into the video the perspective changes. The camera is underneath the point where the particles are streaming in, so you’re looking up, right into the barrel of the magnetic field. It’s a remarkable change in view that must be awesome to see in person.

I’ve never seen a full-on aurora, but some day I will. I hope it’s as pretty as this one was.

Related Posts:

The green fire of the aurora, seen from space
January’s aurorae from way far north
Faith and begaurora (because no one – not one person – sent me love over the AWESOME title I gave this post)
The rocket, the laser, and the northern lights

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Alberta, aurora, time lapse

Comments (14)

Links to this Post

  1. Alberta Aurora | A Quantum Of Knowledge | May 16, 2012
  1. Meg

    At first, my astronomer’s brain said, “Aw…it’s cloudy.” Then my normal-person eyes took over and enjoyed. I was at college in Minnesota just at the beginning of a solar max, and this brought back memories. From that far south (45 deg N!), we didn’t get the colors you see in this video, but the zenith streaming was just like I remembered. Sigh. It was a good 4 years. Thanks for posting this!

  2. Grizzly

    Come on up for solar max. It’s a day’s drive (long, yes, but stil…) and it will be worth it!

  3. I grew up in Edmonton (where this was filmed) and, as a child, thought this is what the sky looked like for everyone. The aurora was so common in our area that my sister’s figure skating club was named after it: Auralta (a combination of aurora and Alberta).

    Phil – come back to Alberta during an active solar period. This isn’t the first time you’ve lamented about not seeing the phenomenon in person. Fix that. Life is short.

  4. Every now again I get surprised by a photo, showing me something I didn’t know about

    Every now and again my work piles up and I can feel that edge of panic start to set in

    I sense a total eclipse coming on…

  5. Grizzly

    Me again.

    No, really. Say you came up and camped in Jasper National Park, a campsite by the river. In summer it takes a while for the sky to clear of light, but that’s okay, the cinders from your campfire become stars as they float up into the sky. And off to the east and north they become pinned to a shimmering curtain of light.

    Or canoe down the Red Deer river and listen to the Coyotes serenade the northern lights as you fight off sleep for just a few more minutes as the land gives up its heat and you can smell the sweet incense of sage on the breeze.

    Or stay in the city and hike up to the top of Nose Hill, spread a blanket and just wait… If nothing comes you still have had a beautiful evening. No panic, no stress.

  6. I’ve seen auroras like that many times having lived many years north of Edmonton while growing up. I have to say that the clouds and the background glow both greatly enhanced the effect. Somehow the clouds just give the whole thing perspective. I mean, that massive light show is *above* the clouds, man! The glow, the clouds, and the auroras come together to show how brilliantly beautiful the universe can be.

    Still, as brilliant as the video is, it just cannot capture feeling of standing on the ground looking up at it all, one small man, already dwarfed by the surrounding plain, staring up into the vastness of it all. It’s simultaneously humbling and inspiring.

  7. Maria


    This post / comments are making me homesick. Sad thing, i’ve never seen ones like this. Just faint glows while living in Calgary. Life IS short. :

  8. nathan

    i have lived in northern alberta my entire life. sometimes when the aurora are out playing you forget that this is something most people in the world will never see, and that the dancing lights are massive amounts of energy. sometimes it takes a person from somewhere far away to comment, saying that they would love to see it in person, for you to understand what you live in.

    that night was amazing in cold lake, it was just south of us that the show was, and would have been shortly after this was taken.

  9. Tehanu

    I live in Los Angeles so I have never seen the aurora in real life and I have a question. These gorgeous videos always seem to be time-lapses, so I’m wondering, what does it look like in real time? All that shimmering movement — how long does it take?

  10. Tribeca Mike

    Simply amazing.

  11. Neil

    I misread the beginning of that first sentence as “Every now and again I work my piles up…”

    ….and I was waiting for the terrible joke about Uranus.

  12. paul childs

    Aurora like this are relatively common in Edmonton, solar peak activity is just gravy. Hey, something has to make for 18 hours of dark in winter!

  13. Matt B.

    This is serenity.


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