Post 3: Mighty Arches in the Sky

All Sky Arch - 1to2 Mar 2014 _DSC2206 I am beginning this blog post while sitting in our micro-Yaris rental car just after midnight as March 1st turns to March 2nd.  Duke is out retrieving the all sky cameras (with fish-eye lenses) that we set up in clearings down off the road in a small forest of lacy-branched trees. The aurora has been extraordinary this evening, with glorious,  horizon to horizon east-west arches, slowly twisting and braiding before raying out over much of the sky. Click the image above to see a larger version!  More than 400 images have been recorded this night.  It will take 120 consecutive all-sky images to make a 1-minute time lapse for the planetarium dome.

All Sky Storm - 1to2Mar 2014 _DSC2336 Writing now after some sleep: Duke had an “all sky” sort of feeling about last night, and wow was he right about that!  I deeply appreciate his combination of technical skill and intuition as a photographer. The image at right was at a peak of activity that caused the lights to ripple, roll, twist, and shimmer for several minutes. I was so fortunate to be looking up at this storm just when a large fireball streaked through the sky near Jupiter.  I cried out with delight, hoping not to alarm Duke who was still working down in the forest. I recorded the time in hopes that somehow one of the all sky images will have caught the long streak of the fireball. We’ll see as the photo processing continues!  And you know, when the northern lights are dancing all over the sky, the display is so awesome to behold that it just makes me want to pray. Understanding the science of how the aurora occurs only adds to the awe and wonder of this extraordinary natural phenomenon. We hope you are getting curious!  Please be sure to click on any image to enlarge it!

The auroral images in this post were made from a place only about 15 km northward from P1030427Tromso – off the road to a township called Skulsfjord.  This location had been recommended by a very friendly and knowledgeable fellow named Odd (pronounced “Ohdt”) who is our host at the family apartment where we are currently staying in Tromso. He told us many interesting stories, including one about the dramatic bombing and sinking of the German warship Tirpitz in Tromso during WWII. His mother was witness to that day. Odd has lived in Norway all of his life and loves it here. His ancestors are fishermen and he seems to have their instincts about the winds and weather of the region. He says that things are very different this winter – warmer with more rain and less snow.

One of the main reasons that the northern lights can be so good near Tromso is that the city is located beneath what is called the northern auroral oval of our planet. There is an auroral oval at both poles that can be observed from space. In general these ovals are brighter and wider when the Sun’s activity is high.  In that case, folks at lower latitudes might see the lights too!

Planets that have a global magnetic field (for example: Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn) all have auroral ovals over both poles. On Earth, the northern lights are called Aurora Borealis.  Southern lights (near the South Pole) are called Aurora Australis. These diagrams peer down on the polar regions of Earth. Look for the outlines of the long Scandanavian countries (Norway, Sweden, and Finland).  [HINT: Consider the green ring (auroral oval) as a clock face with noon at the top. Then look at about 1 o’clock to find the outlines of the far north of Norway beneath the green color. This is where Tromso is located.]

Duke's Favorite - 1to2 Mar 2014 _LND2374 So what causes these extraordinary “halos” of our planet?  Stay tuned to learn more! Meanwhile, please enjoy Duke’s favorite non-all-sky image of the night.  He says he wants to hang this one on the wall in his office. Be sure to click to enlarge. By the way, you can see more of Duke’s photographic artistry at his website.

Will arrives Tromso 2 Mar 2014 P1030435 - cropped

Our teammate Will (who teaches high school physics at the Atlanta International School) arrived in Tromso today.  After loading his bags (which filled our micro-rental car to capacity!), the Tremendous Tromso Trio took off at dusk to do some scouting along the road to a town called Sommeroy, located on the west coast of Norway. During one of our stops to explore, Will made a great image of some outrageous mountain scenery that we hope to photograph with sunset and auroral light illuminating it (see below). Tonight (2-3 Mar) was a bust for northern lights though. Clouds were thick in all directions after nightfall and we retreated early to bed (except me to complete this post!).

The northern lights do occur 24-7, but they are MUCH higher up in the atmosphere than the clouds. Clear skies are very, very important to our mission, yet the weather forecasts  are not looking particularly promising during these next days. Even so, we will venture forth because Mother Nature is often quite difficult to predict among the mountains and fyords!

Cool blue Mountain Peak _MG_6988 - re-sized

4 thoughts on “Post 3: Mighty Arches in the Sky

  1. A fireball? Cool! I don’t know how you stand waiting until the images are processed to see if it was captured. You MUST post the picture, if it was indeed captured! I have two questions. One is a scientific question about planetary magnetic fields. The other is a technical about dome photographic projects that I’d like to explore further offline, but for which I’d like to hear your initial general response.

    Magnetic Fields: You say “planets that have a global magnetic field (for example, Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn).” I thought all planets had magnetic fields. Is this not true? Do some NOT have a magnetic field?

    Dome Projects: You speak of the time lapse for the planetary dome…which suggests it’s possible to have moving imagery in such a dome to give people a rich experience of the lights. What would it take to have a longer experience from the ground level using only computer graphics (no “real” photographs)? Would it be possible to have a virtual walk-through of an “imaginary” landscape? If this is too involved a question for this blog or one you would refer me to others for, just let me know.

    In the meantime, happy and safe adventures!

    • Hi Nancy! WE love your thoughtful questions very much. We are sorry for the delay in responding. We have been running all over the region these last days as new posts will soon reveal.

      1. We scoured back through the all-sky sequence that was being recorded when I saw the fireball, and it appears that the camera recorded so much aurora light in that area of the sky at that time that the meteor streak must have been washed out.

      2. Correct. Some planets have no global magnetic field. You have to have a molten core to generate magnetic fields, and some planets (e.g. Mercury, Venus, Mars) have cooled too much to allow the interior fluid motions that keep generating magnetic field.

      3. Virtual reality aurora is conceivable, but it would require Hollywood-like capacity and enormous expense to create something that emulated nature in a reasonably authentic way. We may as well just try to record what nature is doing and adapt it to create an immersive experience for planetarium visitors. In a sense viewing the all sky images on a planetarium dome is also a virtual reality experience since a) you are not actually there, and b) the time lapse sequences integrate over 15 seconds of sky activity so it is not exactly what the eye sees. You have to stitch more than 120 sequenced images together to get 1 minute of time lapse video. But…at least you are immersed in images that are derived from the real sky.

      Warmest regards,

      Cherilynn with Duke and Will

  2. Pingback: Post 8: Hunting and Fishing in the Sami Sky | ArtSciencEducation

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