He filmed this in Tromsø (specifically Kvaløya and Tromsøya), in northern Norway, which is apparently a mecca for aurorae (see Related Posts below). Mathisen is an editor and cameraman for Norwegian Broadcasting, and clearly has an excellent eye for the sky. He has another aurora video he shot in 2010.
This is exactly what I needed as temperatures here push 40°C. It’s nice to know that while we’re sizzling here, the atmosphere is sizzling with cold light elsewhere.
Tip o’ the parka hood to John Markus Bjørndalen.
Troms, Norway is pretty far north — at a latitude of 70°, it’s above the Arctic Circle, and in January the Sun never rises. That might sound forbidding, but this video by Ville Kröger of the aurorae taken in January during the big solar storms might change your mind:
What breathtaking scenery! The mountains look wonderful, and I imagine it’s a lovely place to visit… in the spring, or in the winter to see the northern lights. Funny — it gets colder here in Boulder on average than it does there. Latitude isn’t everything; sea currents make a big difference as well.
But of course, we don’t get the light show they do. Someday I’ll get to see one of these. Sigh.
OK, fine. I’m too much of a sap to leave y’all at the end of the year with a floaty shark balloon. So instead, I’ll leave you with some astonishing beauty: Terje Sorgjerd’s time lapse animation "The Aurora":
Wow. Make sure it’s set to HD and make it full screen!
As devastating and haunting as the northern lights are, my eye kept being drawn to the stars themselves. I recognized some constellations, but their movement across the sky was just so odd: instead of heading up or down, many were going sideways, parallel with the horizon. I hadn’t read the video notes yet, so when I saw that, my first thought was, "Holy cow, how far north was he?!"
Turns out, really, really far. The video was shot at Kirkenes and Pas National Park in northern Norway — yes, northern Norway, around 70° north latitude. As an example, down here at more temperate latitudes, Vega gets pretty high in the sky, almost directly overhead. But that far north it doesn’t; in fact, that far north Vega never sets! It’s a circumpolar star, like Polaris itself. You can see that for yourself in the video: Vega is the bright star near the center of the frame starting at 21 seconds in. It’s in the video for about 10 seconds, and you can see it’s moving downward in a slow arc, but clearly won’t get anywhere near the horizon.
In the very next sequence you can see Orion right on the horizon, faded due to the Moon. But where I live, in Boulder, over the course of the night Orion rises on his side, arcs up to the south until he’s standing upright, then sets on his other side. In the video, though, he’s upright and slowly, slowly sinking at a shallow angle.
What a difference latitude makes! The aurorae are usually only visible from extreme northerly or southerly latitudes — though sometimes, after a big solar storm, they can be seen toward middle latitudes — so that’s an obvious difference. But the stars themselves tell the story of our round planet.
We live on a ball! And it spins through space, once a day, sweeping around a star in a period about 365.24 times that long, which itself circles the center of the Milky Way once in a period 220 million times longer than that, as it’s done only a score of times since its birth.
That’s quite the story. And the best part? It’s true.
Keep that in mind as we start our next turn around the Sun. Maybe it’ll help keep things in perspective.
Happy new year, folks, and may 2012 be ruled by reason and reality.
I got a few emails about this while on vacation, and APOD just posted it too, but what the heck: a gorgeous timelapse video of aurorae (northern lights) over Norway:
This one was done by Terje Sorgjerd, and is quite lovely. Another great timelapse aurora video can be found at Lights in the Dark, too. I still have never seen a good display myself in person (just a smear of red light to the north once when I lived in Maryland), but one day I will. One day.
[UPDATE 2: I just heard that space guy James Oberg will be on the last segment of Rachel Madddow's show on MSNBC tonight to talk about this!]
[UPDATE 1: See bottom of post; I knew it!]
Earlier in the morning today (around 8:00 a.m. local time) this weird thing was seen over the skies of Norway:
My first reaction when I saw that was, "What the FRAK is THAT?!" My second thought was, "Photoshop". But then I saw lots of pictures of this on a bunch of different Norwegian media, so I don’t think it’s a digital hoax. Then videos started surfacing, like this one, which clearly show the spiral spinning. It’s not just a static picture, whatever this thing was; it was really in the sky.
However, after a moment, I realized this must be a rocket, most likely spiraling out of control. I don’t understand all the details — I don’t have all the info yet — but a rocket fits what we’re seeing here. First, this was seen all over Norway, so it must have been at a high altitude to be so visible. Second, the blue spiral angling down to the right is clearly due to perspective. A rocket spiraling around, and coming up from the lower right, would appear to make tight spirals when it was far away and bigger ones as it got closer.
Third, you can actually see the bright white spiral spinning in the videos. That threw me for a second, to be honest, but after a moment I figured that it makes sense if the rocket is headed more or less straight toward the camera. Whatever it is being lit up (exhaust, or a leaking payload?) would appear to expand in a spiral like water from a spinning sprinklerhead. The spiral itself is not spinning any more than water from the sprinkler is; that’s an illusion of motion.
Fourth, after a few moments, a black disk appears to expand in the center of the white spiral, as seen in this picture (it’s a little fuzzy; you can see the person taking it must have used a long exposure because foreground lights are jittery, but you get the idea). That’s exactly what I would expect if whatever is being ejected by the rocket ran out; the arms of the spiral would expand away from the center, leaving black emptiness in the middle.
So that’s my hypothesis. A rocket got out of control, perhaps losing a stabilizer, and started to spiral. The two spirals, different in shape, size, and color, indicate something happened in the middle of all this (the rocket second stage fired while still spinning, or something else started leaking out), changing the rocket’s direction. Then, when the fuel or whatever ran out, the white spiral began to disappear from the inside out as the material expanded in space.
So who launched it? The Russians are a likely guess, but –shocker — they’re denying it. I’d love to know and find out what the details are, but whoever shot it up and whatever the purpose, I’m pretty sure what we’re seeing here is a rocket launch that didn’t go exactly according to plan.
Note: there are a lot of stories online about this with more very cool pictures: The Sun and The Daily Mail have it in English, while Norwegian media include VG Nett, Altaposten.no, NRK.no, Framtidinord.no, Nordlis.no, and amazing videos can be seen here and here.
Photos: Jan Petter Jørgensen and Morten Kristiansen. Tip o’ the payload bay to the many folks who alerted me to this story!