Oh My, Aurora!

Aurora Borealis over Chugach Mountains, Eagle River, Alaska.

Late last month, two coronal mass ejections (a fancy term for ionized gases that erupt from the surface of the sun) in succession hurled towards the earth. When they arrived on February 26-27, they produced a G3 solar storm that resulted in a spectacular Aurora Borealis (a.k.a. Northern Lights) display that was seen as far south as Montana, the Dakotas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and other northern-tier states in the U.S.

News feeds and social media around the world were inundated with photos and first-hand accounts. I have even read about two European flights where the pilots did a 360-degree flyby so that the passengers on both sides of the plane could see the show. 

Following forecasts from such sources as spaceweather.com, the Geophysical Institute at University of Alaska Fairbanks, and apps like Aurora Fcst and Aurora, I headed to one of my favorite locations on the frozen Eagle River to frame the aurora over the Chugach Mountains. I was not disappointed. Even rare red colors appeared, which are associated with oxygen at high altitudes bombarded by intense radiation. This shot contains a veritable rainbow of colors.

With intense geomagnetic storms the aurora moves quite quickly.  Long exposure times, like 15-30 seconds normally needed for stars, would not capture the fine detail of the aurora. The result would be a blur of color.  Fortunately, a half-moon illuminated the landscape and I was able to shoot at a shutter speed of 1.6 secs at ISO 3200.

I’m blessed to be able to see this amazing phenomena in my “backyard” here in Alaska. This night I will cherish as one of the best in my pursuit of Lady Aurora.

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