Post 4: To Catch a Meteor Fall and a Comet’s Tail!

_MG_0586Thursday night’s excursion to the more distant Prelude Lake was mostly clouded out, but it did serve as a “prelude” to Friday’s full night of exhilarating auroral photography back at Vee Lake.

At left is one of the Friday images recorded by the team of Duke Johnson, Will Stoll, and myself (Cherilynn Morrow). At the bottom of this blog entry, I’ve appended another album of sample images selected from the more than 350 that were recorded by two cameras over a 6.5 hour period on 8-9 March 2013. Our Kickstarter supporters will certainly have a lot of wonderful options to choose from!!


Thank You to Followers and Contributors!

Please know how much our hearts are touched each time a blog comment or Kickstarter contribution comes in. It inspires us deeply in our work here to know that family, friends, and new folks we don’t even know are out there finding value in our mission.

One of Will’s high school students (Nina, who had helped to create our Kickstarter video) made a contribution, and when Will responded to her with a thank you note, she wrote back that she plans to use the printed image she will receive from us as a gift for her father. Will’s family members are also contributing generously. Dear ones from my Atlanta yoga, music, and philosophy communities, and a beloved sky watcher friend from Boulder, CO are also among the contributors thus far. Thank you from all of us!!!

It is especially inspiring when folks let us know how they are sharing our blog with others. My niece Kim reported showing images to her daughter Lissy who wants to share them with her 4th grade class. My soulful 13-year old goddaughter Moira in Michigan (at right) wrote in a Facebook post that she would share our blog with her science teacher and friends at school. She then appended this heart-melting comment:

“… I especially want to thank you for inspiring me to do new things every day, and to find unique, adventurous ways to do them…♥ ”

Will heard back commentary from colleagues in Costa Rica who shared our auroral images with some teens there. For those tropical young people, it was like seeing images from another planet, and they expressed doubt about the reality of such a cold environment with lights in the sky beyond all imagining.

Such responses tap into the team’s shared passion for expanding horizons and inspiring curiosity, and this is greatly enriching our experience here. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!


A Magnificent Meteor Fall

0562_MeteorAurora_JupOn Friday night we enjoyed a very special bonding moment. We stopped our little blue car with the dangling front bumper  (NOTE: the Rent-a-Relic owner is out of town and his son-in-law, to whom we reported our crash into a snow bank, said to keep the car as long as it is drive-able)… yes… we stopped on a Vee Lake ice road to fulfill Will’s expressed desire to photograph a couple of the ice fishing huts we’d seen during our daytime scouting.  These structures provide shelter for those who sit long hours fishing through drilled or cut holes in the thick ice. The aurora weren’t very active at the time, but we stopped to set up anyway.

I had seen several meteors as I gazed skyward while Duke and Will had their dedicated noses in the camera displays, but this time I called out insistently to draw their attention to a veritable fireball that intensified as it streaked downward.  Both of my teammates looked up in time to see it, and then Duke wondered aloud if the event had been captured by either of the cameras.  We checked, and it turned out that BOTH cameras were “IN”, meaning they were recording data and caught the meteor in flight!!   We were so delighted that we spontaneously reached out our arms in a 3-way circle of embrace, whooping and hollering with joy.

The image was shot with Will’s new camera using a 6-point star filter.  The bright light with the spikes is Jupiter – the largest planet in the solar system. The small bunch of stars at about 4 o’clock from Jupiter is the MUCH more distant Pleiades star cluster. Duke processed the image to enhance contrast and lighten up the foreground so that the ice fishing hut was a bit easier to see.


Wwwwind ChChChill

Certainly you cannot make auroral images from inside an ice fishing hut, but it is a great advantage for an ice fisherman to be isolated from the movement of the air. As most know from experience, the wind really diminishes capacity for withstanding cold air temperatures. On Friday night, while we were out photographing aurora, the air temperature was about –33C (–28F).  There was only a 6 mph wind, but at this low temperature just that small amount of wind lowered the temperature sensed by our bodies by about 10C (18F).  So when this “gentle” artic breeze blew, it felt like –43C (–46 F).

If the spirit moves you, use this wind chill factor calculator to check out these numbers.  At more moderate temperatures, say 10C (50F) such a low wind speed does not cause a significant wind chill.  Check it out for yourself!


The Tent Images

After we’d photographed two ice fishing huts we returned to the access point for a favored alcove of trees near an island in the frozen lake, but the aurora had pooped out completely.  Remaining hopeful, we went ahead to assemble the tent Duke had brought along as a photographic prop, and then we tested out different light sources for the best illumination to combine with auroral lights.  We tried several options, and it turned out that Will had the perfect lantern with a dimmer switch that we could tune to be exactly what we needed. Yay!! 

But….the aurora were still quiet, so we sat silently in our little blue car, heater running full blast, and wound up dozing for an hour or so. It was VERY easy to drop off to sleep because the afternoon’s nap hadn’t worked out to be as long as planned. 

_MG_6030Shortly after midnight Duke spoke up, “I don’t see anything out this side, how is it over there?”  I looked out my passenger side window, expecting to see nothing.  At first this was true, as there was a limit to how far I could turn my abundantly bundled head.  Pressing around, I thought perhaps I saw a little glow, and when I stepped outside for a better look, a colorful ribbon danced across the sky.  I enthusiastically sounded the call, and we all scrambled into action like firemen responding to an alarm.  Sooooo exciting….and funny how nobody feels tired when the northern lights are blazing. 

Duke and Will carried the heavy metal tripods with cameras affixed, and my job was to drag the assembled tent (like a giant beach ball) the quarter mile or so across the snow and ice to the positions deemed best for providing interesting foreground.  Will’s lantern got finicky in the arctic cold and started producing a strobe-like flickering instead of the steady dim glow Duke wanted inside the tent. 

Give up?  Nope.  Added to my role became the task of kneeling at the doorway of the tent, holding the lantern inside, and turning the flickering light on and off at Duke’s command.  All of the tent shots in our album below were made in this way. You’ll also see a tent shot with the red glow of my headlamp. Of course, with my head inside the tent, I missed out on most of the lights that were on display, but seeing how the images turned out made it a worthy contribution to the cause.


Cherilynn’s Arctic Attire Gets a Big Boost!

_MG_5930In one of the shots of the album you will see a person with arms outstretched in front of our little blue car who was wearing an orange and black, one-piece, down suit. We had all looked into buying such suits for this trip because they are so perfect for our mission, but they are also hugely expensive (>$1000), and have no other purpose except for polar region expeditions and climbing the highest peaks like Mount Everest. Such suits are are made for the coldest places on the planet.


Cherilynn in Pam's Down SuitWhen I saw an elegant woman sporting this Mountain Hardware Absolute Zero down suit in our Super 8 breakfast room on Friday morning, I scurried up to greet her and expressed my curiosity and admiration.  Well….it turned out that she was from Georgia, where Will and I both are currently living!!!  She had been visiting Yellowknife to see the aurora with her son who lives in Canada, and she soon made the generous offer of loaning me the suit for the remaining week of our expedition. She asked only that I bring it back to her upon returning to Atlanta.  Wow!!  Thank you Lady Pam!

Friday was my first night out with this amazing 800-fill, water and windproof down suit, and I can testify that it works really well to keep the core fires burning during sustained exposure to the extreme cold and the chilling arctic breezes we experienced. As you can imagine, the rugged extra layer of black material on the knees was a saving grace for making the tent shots.

The guys were understandably a bit jealous about my new arctic attire, but they were still genuinely curious about my experience with the new gear.

Gallery of Selected Images from Friday Night (8-9 March 2013)


To Chase a Comet’s Tail

We are also on the lookout for Comet PANSTARRS, and Duke has been plotting how we might get the best chance of seeing it, and possibly photographing it.  The sky has not been clear tonight (Sunday) or last night (Saturday), which is why we’ve had time to catch up on the blog a bit, and to enjoy excursions to the Snow King Palace, Gallery of the Midnight Sun, and the infamous Ragged Ass Road.


On Saturday night we enjoyed an arctic fish dinner (Pickerel, in particular) at the zany and world famous Bullock’s Bistro.  We had ringside seats at the bar, watching the earthy, lovely, and refreshingly feisty Renata Bullock conduct the preparation of all of the fish entrees for a packed house….grilling, pan frying, or deep frying as requested by the customers. The last image in the album below shows Renata using a hand pulled device to cut the fries straight from raw potatoes. The fresh chips are shortly tossed into the hot oil.  I am happy to spend calories on fries that actually taste like potatoes. 

When Duke asked for a glass of tap water, Renata replied, “Tap water?!?  Hey get it yourself, I’ve got more important things to do.”  It was obvious that she was right, and so we fetched our own water, read the copious risque stickers plastered over everything, and most importantly shared our noble mission with fellow customers, (including two Aussie adventuresses) while we waited patiently for what turned out to be an extraordinary meal.


When Renata Bullock found out what the three of us were doing in Yellowknife, she wanted to know the web address of our blog and asked whether we knew about “the comet”. She gave us the reported dimensions of PANSTARRS’ tail in kilometers, and described having seen it herself in the sky.

20130309_101955[1]Yes these northern Canadians are different.  The traveling computer network specialist we met at Super 8 breakfast the other day (Floyd) had not finished high school, and yet provided a beautiful,  scientifically accurate explanation of the aurora before he knew who we were.  He LOVED seeing our images, and confessed to being passionate about learning new things all of his life. Ruth, our breakfast attendant from the Philippines was also very excited to see the images. We could wish to persuade ALL of our science students to enjoy the pleasures of such curiosity and awareness.  Anyway, we’ve now learned how rewarding it is to bring our laptops full of images to breakfast at the Super 8  in Yellowknife (who, without prompting,  comp’d us one night for all the flooding troubles).

Looking Ahead

The weather looks clear all this next week, so we are hoping for the Sun to wake up and become a bit more active to help make the aurora dance. Will has been sick these past couple of days and I now am fighting off something too.  Duke is a bit sleep deprived as well, so it will take some doing to pace ourselves appropriately for the home stretch.

Marsha and James_MG_2693Duke’s spouse, Marsha, and their 21 month-old son, James are in contact with Duke everyday via Skype. Marsha is supporting some of the image processing, and James evidently loves to see his Da-Da’s face on the computer screen!  Let us know if you’d like to try to do a Skype call with the team.  We will do our best to accommodate!

At right is a photo of Marsha with a 12-month year old James who I’m told could already hang from the rings for 35 seconds!  It is clear he will become very big and strong like his dad whom I have observed trooping at high speed across the snow and ice in the dark with a heavy pack full of camera gear and a heavy metal tripod to get the best shot.  Ah it would be great if soldiers could channel their energy for battle to adventure photography, shooting photos rather than people. I observe and experience that many of the same skills and capacities to persevere are required.  Fatigue is a real issue here.

One thought on “Post 4: To Catch a Meteor Fall and a Comet’s Tail!

  1. Wow, the photo with the ice fishing hut and comet absolutely took my breath away…The photos look like those photographs you see of galaxies and nebulae taken by the Hubble deep in space; the sky is so clear and the stars so bright…

    Thank you Cheri for the mention, I am so glad I can help in my own tiny way :)

    I think it would be very, very cool to arrange a Skype call or something whenever possible (no pressure at all, I know you’re all very busy, and probably sleep deprived). The rest of the family and I would love to talk, as well as maybe meet your amazing teammates!

    Lots of Love!


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