I have got to get to Yellowknife, in Canada. They seem to get spectacular aurorae all the time there!
A few days ago I posted an aurora picture taken by Stéphane Guisard. Well, in October he was up in Yellowknife, and using a special camera he took an all-night all-sky time lapse video of the aurorae as it flickered and snapped across the sky. It’s magical:
Holy wow. Seriously, make this full screen. The slowly-moving stars of the Big Dipper and other constellations take a back seat (nearly literally) to the eerie green and red glowing ribbons created when the Earth’s magnetic field fires subatomic particles down into our atmosphere. Of course, when the three-week-old Moon rises, it dominates the scene, but not for long. The aurorae draw the eye, and it’s impossible to look away. Even the towering Milky Way wheeling around the sky couldn’t distract me from the lights for long.
I also love how the clouds stream in, and it gets a bit confusing distinguishing them from the aurorae. And finally, as the video draws to a close you can see Venus hanging just behind the sickle of Leo’s head, a sure sign the Sun won’t be long to rise. And on cue it does, lighting the sky and washing away the glory of the magnetic storm going on overhead.
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!]
- 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