We got an earlier start on 4 March in order that Duke could set up an all sky camera that would record the transition between daylight and dark in a beautiful setting about 30 km west of Tromsø whose combination of striking peaks and an icy creek we all loved. It was clearly a favorite destination among locals for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The snow was very deep beneath our feet, however the frozen surface (due to an unusual amount of rain in the region) made it unnecessary to use anything other than our boots to make the trek in. We had an unusually clear day and night in which to work.
In the photo above, Will has documented Duke and myself (Cherilynn in red) carrying in the gear that will support the all-sky set up. The plan was to get Duke up and running with the all sky, and then Will and I would continue down the road (Route 862) to Sommerøy to scout the terrain while there was a bit of daylight left. We would then return to support nighttime photography.
The photo below captures Duke working to install one of two all-sky cameras. We positioned one in the open field in order to capture the twilight-to-nighttime transition and hopefully the onset of aurora. Duke also planned to set up another all-sky camera after nightfall over by an especially photogenic place on a creek that we had scouted out earlier. The creek is to the left out of the frame of the image below.
Duke (at right) put on all the layers he had brought with him to Norway in order to ensure relative comfort in the cold for a few hours while Will and I traveled to Sommerøy and back. His clothing would need to serve as his sole source of shelter until we returned.
The car ride to Sommerøy in the twilight hours was overwhelmingly beautiful as the images below reveal. Will and I stopped countless times to make photos, and at last caught sight of how breath-taking the reflections of the mountains in the fjords can be (see below).
We were also quite enchanted by the graceful arc of the Sommerøy bridge (below).
When Will and I got back to the Peak and Creek site where Duke was, we were a bit surprised to find the auroral lights going strong. We had not been able to see them from the coast. We quickly geared up for the cold (-15C = -5F), and then I set off to check on Duke and deliver his chicken sandwich, while Will set up to start shooting “normal” (meaning non-fish-eye) photography of the lights. The site of the all sky camera in the open field was very challenging to find in the dark, and we had to use our voices to guide each other to the site in a way that avoids someone inadvertently appearing in the field of view. As I arrived, Duke was setting up the second all sky camera by the creek and making his way back to the all sky site in the open field.
My favorite moment that night was when we were all three together by the site in the open field …beneath the peaks…. a mile away from the road…lying on our backs in the crusty snow and gazing up a gorgeous, multi-strand eruption of the northern lights that occurred around midnight. Will had already made a nice series of images from an earlier storm and was taking a break. His camera was a kilometer or more away. Duke’s all sky cameras were cranking along, one nearby and the other a couple of hundred meters away by the creek. There was nothing to do but let the glory of the celestial lights seep into our souls.
Notice how the the creek reflects the green auroral light in the image above. In the image below, the beautiful purple light was not obvious to to the unaided eye, but the camera records its presence beautifully.
The colors of the northern lights depend on the type of molecule in the atmosphere, generally some form of oxygen or nitrogen (see the spectrum below). The colors are also affected by the energy of the electrons from the Sun and Earth magnetosphere that are colliding and exciting the oxygen and nitrogen molecules at different altitudes. As the excited molecules relax back to their ground states they emit the light in the Earth’s upper atmosphere that we see and record as aurora. When there is more solar activity, the lights are generally brighter and more dynamic. There may also be a fuller spectrum of colors on display or possibly an intense brightening in a particular color.
Auroral photography is humbling. After all of the effort to set up and endure the cold, only one of the two all sky cameras properly recorded images that night – the Canon camera by the creek. The higher-tech Nikon somehow flipped exposure settings in the middle of the run, making hours of data utterly useless. Aaaargh!
Yet on we go! Below is a peek at an all-sky image from the camera by the creek. We hope you enjoy exploring its beauty and delightful details…and perhaps…you might even catch a hint of why we were all so taken with our Peak and Creek observation site. Thank you dear automated all-sky camera for allowing us to be recording images like this while we took a moment for some soul seeping.