Up, up, and aurora!

By Phil Plait | October 11, 2012 1:01 pm

Stéphane Guisard is a photographer who lives in Chile and takes phenomenal shots of the night sky – I’ve featured his work many times here on the BABlog (see Related Posts at the bottom of this article for much more).

He recently decided to take a long, long trek – he traveled from his home in Chile to the aurora haven of Yellowknife, Canada. Why? Did I mention that Yellowknife is a haven for aurorae?

And while there, on September 30, he saw this:

Wow! [Click to enemissionate.]

This shot has three things in it I just love. One is, duh, the aurora itself. Charged particles from the solar wind are caught by the Earth’s magnetic field, and are funneled down into the Earth’s atmosphere at high latitudes (that is, near the poles). They slam into the air, dumping energy into the atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, which respond by glowing with various colors. The green and red colors are due to oxygen and nitrogen.

I also love the reflection in the lake. It’s not something you think about much in pictures of aurorae, but to me it magnifies the beauty and reality of what I’m seeing.

The third thing is the shape of the aurora. The particles are shot mostly downward into the atmosphere, creating thin sheets and ribbons of light. At the bottom of the picture you’re looking more sideways at these sheets, but near the top you’re looking up, along the particle trajectories. The aurorae appear to radiate outward from a single spot, which is the direction from which the particles are zipping. It’s like looking at lights along a tunnel; they appear to converge at a single spot, the other end of the tunnel.

Stéphane’s pictures tend to focus (HAHAHAHA! Get it?) on big sky events – star trails, aurorae, and the like – though he does telescopic imagery as well. His work is wonderful and beautiful and well, well worth your time to take a look.

[Note: Universe Today has a few pictures up from recent aurorae due to a solar storm that nicked the Earth’s magnetic field on October 8. They’re among the most spectacular I’ve ever seen!]


Related posts:

INSANELY cool picture of Comet Lovejoy
Time lapse video: ISS cometrise
Orion in the Mayan skies
Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2009 (see #3 for Stéphane’s picture)
AMAZING wide-angle time lapse night sky video!
Time lapse: old rocks and old skies

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (7)

  1. UmTutSut

    Whaddaya wanna bet someone on teh interwebs uses that photo to say there was an “angel” in the sky that night? It looks remotely angelic if you’re into that sort of thing.

  2. I thought it looked like the Phoenix Effect.

  3. Michael Weir

    Simply amazing. To see one in person is on my bucket list.

  4. VinceRN

    Aurorae have been visible from here (40ish miles northish of Seattle) recently, though not very spectacular.

    Yellowknife is definitely on the list of places to see, and to take my daughters, and it’s not all that far, compared to Chile at least.

  5. Pasander

    There’s a hint of coronal aurora in the picture. Only once in my life have I seen coronal aurora, during the strong geomagnetic storm in April 2002. What made it especially special was that I was in the middle of a big city (=light pollution!) but still the sky was filled from horizon to horizon with a bright red-green auroral crown. It was mind-blowingly psychedelic! Only a total solar eclipse can eclipse (pardon the pun) such an auroral display in awesomeness.

  6. CatMom

    It’s a real bummer when we get those great displays on a night when you have to get up for work the next day.

  7. Phred

    One thing photo’s don’t really give, is the sense of scale aurora’s have.
    Coming home to Dunedin from Christchurch one night had a magnificent display around Shag Point. Stopped the car and got out to look. It was a very clear cold night and the sheets and curtain displays were amazingly awesomely huge when seen in live 3d.

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