Social Media and Sweet Aurora

Valentine’s Day has arrived and according to my online weather forecast, it might actually be clear this evening. A quick check on the aurora forecasts, and they all seem to basically agree: there will be little or no northern lights this evening.

Around 9 p.m. my youngest son promptly arrives in the living room to inform me that his friends were chatting online and in Porter Creek they are getting a great northern light show. We quickly hurry outside to the front porch and what do we see? Nothing!

Disappointed, we sauntered back into the house where I decide it’s best to error on the side of caution—I collect my cameras and gear.

With all my equipment ready, and insulated coveralls, parka and toque on, I head outside and there before me was a most excellent aurora show just beginning. Quickly, I grab the ladder and head up to my rooftop and set up the cameras and tripods.

I have been waiting for a couple of weeks for a strong auroral show so that I could test out a new camera. The Canon 5D MK 11 is a 21 million pixel full-frame digital camera offering wondrous wide-angle shots.

The camera performs perfectly in the -10 Celsius temperature. Three hours and 262 photos later, I have the answer. The photos exceed all my expectations—simply an amazing camera.

Throughout the evening and morning hours my neighbours come and go, to and from work and play. They see me up on the roof and dim their headlights, knowing I am doing a photo shoot. Great neighbours make astronomy much more enjoyable.

So how was the aurora show, you ask?

It began as greenish clouds of aurora crept across the northern horizon with large arcing bands of green, off white, and even some red tinges.

Within an hour the entire night sky had a soft greenish glow, with pillars and spikes scattering randomly across the night sky. Pulsing waves of light raced across the arcs of already bright bands of aurora, making the view better than 3D.

With no moon in the sky, and Jupiter and Mars looking more like landing beacons than planets, it made for an incredible evening. The constellation of Orion was resting nicely over the valley floor, and the Orion nebula was easily seen as a small greenish cloud.

Taking photographs of the aurora takes time, patience and attention to detail. As the northern lights change in brightness and intensity, you will most likely change your ISO, shutter speed and f-stop on a regular basis.

This said, it can make concentrating on the job at hand of taking pictures especially difficult when an outburst of aurora is happening all around you.

If you are an avid enthusiast of the northern lights you may have noticed that most of the great displays seem to happening in Sweden, Norway and Iceland. It appears that it is our turn, finally! In the mornings around 4 a.m. there have been strong displays, and even a couple times during the week in the late evening.

Keep your camera ready, and your batteries charged and ready to go. Adjust all your camera settings in the house before you head outside – it is much easier to see what you are doing.

When you get home from work, set up your camera, tripod and shutter cable, and have them ready to go. If there is a great auroral display happening, don’t lose time looking for tripods, cables and such.

How do I find out if there is going to be a great auroral display in my sky tonight? Checking the website and clicking on the “Current Auroral Oval” map seems to be the most reliable.

This website offers all the information anyone could ever want, and there are pictures from people from all over the globe. One of the best websites out there, hands down!

Take some time and head outside and take look for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

For the next month or so, we are moving the astronomy club’s location to the Fish Lake Road. At the turn off, go 4.2 kilometres and turn left we will be set up in the open area on Saturday nights.

Clear skies!

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

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