Post 8: Last Night Out!

_MG_6973We just learned that NASA may use some of the images we’ve posted on this blog for their upcoming Sun-Earth Day webcast on Friday 22 March 2013.  Hooray!!

Of course, I am writing retrospectively now as I attempt to rest and recover from our exhausting and exhilarating Northern Lights Photo Expedition for Education.  There was no time for processing photographs or blogging at the end of our arctic adventure.  It was all we could super-humanly do to get ourselves on an 8:15 am airplane on Saturday morning (16 Mar 2013), after a wild party of Friday night lights, and essentially no sleep.

The lead image here is one of my very favorites, although it does NOT come from the last night Duke and I spent in the field (see album below for that).  Instead this image was made on Will’s last night out with us (Tues 12 Mar 2013), which had also been a veritable “dance party” of lights. The rustic foreground scenery you see is located around the corner from the famous old Yellowknife mine (see lead image for Post 5).

20130312_190104I’d been saving this auroral image to make a comparison of the remarkable braided structure with the furls of a woman’s long hair – okay, MY long hair. And although I have highlights (ahem), it occurred to me that such a juxtaposition might unsuitably detract from the majesty and charm of the auroral image.  Oh well…here it is anyway. Perhaps one redeeming factor is that I found my hair falling naturally the way you see it, and did nothing to arrange it for the photo. Click on the photo for a closer look.  By the way, all that hair had to be tucked away in a small bun at the base of my neck to wear the balaclava, hats, and hoods.


Will’s Departure and Return to His Students

20130313_125413Before sharing the images from our last night out, I’d like to take a moment to properly document Will’s departure (Wed 13 Mar 2013).  He returned to Atlanta for jury duty, classroom teaching (getting paid again!), and completing his comprehensive exam to advance his candidacy for a doctoral degree in Education.  We all faced such re-entry challenges, but Will’s story takes the cake and explains why he left us a few days earlier.

Below you can see Will (in green T-shirt) with some of his students at Norcross High School (Georgia) who followed the Yellowknife trail of their adventurous teacher. Several of them were involved in producing our project’s  Kickstarter video. Click into the image to see their bright, smiling faces more clearly.

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Images from Our Last Night Out

The northern lights were dazzling on our last night out (Fri 15 Mar 2013)!  Perhaps it was the very best night of the entire expedition from an experiential point of view.   Colorful, energetic spirals and curls unfolded faster than the cameras could record. The album embedded at right offers a small sample of images recorded.  Some have unique structures not previously posted. Check out the odd square formation in one of the images!

Aurora forecasters had estimated a 65% chance of polar geomagnetic storms on March 15th because it was possible that a storm of particles from the Sun called a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) might deliver a glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field. Given what we witnessed in the sky that night, the “blow” was delivered.


Earth’s AMAZING Magnetic Field

We are not often told in school that our planet’s magnetic field is absolutely essential to life on Earth as we know it.  Without its “force-field-like” ability to deflect the charged particle radiation from the Sun (the so-called solar wind of electrons and protons), the delicate tissues of living things on the Earth’s surface would be destroyed. NOTE: The artist conception above is NOT TO SCALE, but gives the idea of particle deflection by Earth’s magnetic field.

I was already in awe of our planet’s magnetic field before I went to Yellowknife. But now, having experienced the lights with my own eyes over many nights, I am astonished by the diversity of shapes and structures the dynamics of Earth’s magnetic field can cause. The field acts as a veritable sculptor of light forms, producing some of the most sublimely beautiful spectacles a human can behold!


Go to See the Lights for Yourself!

_MG_5660We hope our images inspire you to find a way to see the aurora with your own eyes!  Our cameras and blog descriptions cannot fully convey the unforgettable energy that arises in the heart and soul as you witness the lights dancing.

And yes, there are cozier ways to experience the lights than staying out all night on a frozen lake in quest of vast quantities of amazing photos. You may wish to consider the hot tubs and heated seats of Aurora Village located just outside Yellowknife where the guides will provide a photo for you.


Do the Eyes (or the Nose) Have It?

20130306_212311For those who wear glasses, you might wish to consider outfitting with contact lenses before heading out into the arctic cold to see the lights.  It’s not absolutely necessary, but the picture of Duke (at left) speaks loudly for itself on this matter.

20130308_172551Duke and I had never before worn contacts, but he was insistent that we get them because of his deeply frustrating experience with frosted glasses in the field 12 years ago.  Our experience is that every type of body moisture freezes. Check out the handsome snot-cicle at right, and the frosty eyelashes below. (Yes, snotcicle is in the urban dictionary). Click the images to have a closer look than you may want. NOTE: Almost every image of the blog will enlarge.

20130316_030150Back to the contacts. Duke and I had observed friends pop contacts in and out of their eyes as effortlessly as popping a piece of candy in their mouth.  They had learned to do it in their youth. But for us, it was MUCH more challenging, and we were glad to have each other for moral support.  Sticking our fingers in our eyes was simply not natural for us.

IMG_2483So every night of the expedition,  in addition to remembering to put on my “arctic-naut” diaper (which most nights I forgot to do before 3 or 4 layers of clothing were already on), Duke and I jested about remembering to “put in our eyes”.  We had to do it before layering up because on many nights we needed multiple tries, and we would heat up too much if we had too many clothes on. Will’s photo captured me in the act of installing a contact.  I find it freaky, but I hope my teacher Clove at Eye Etc.  back in Atlanta approves of my form. Again, click the image to see more detail than you may want. NOTE: Almost every image in the blog will enlarge.

Contact Mal-function in the Field – A Lesson in Teamwork

_MG_7282On the last night out, we arrived at the place on the lake ice road where we hike into our favorite panorama alcove. I finally had to admit that I just couldn’t see through my right eye. Sometimes it took the contacts awhile to settle down, but this was different. Something must be wrong. Poo! This would spoil my vision on our last night out.

The aurora had already stormed once, and it was likely to start up again any moment. I knew Duke was anxious to set up his nifty, home-rigged panorama device that fit two cameras at once.  I figured he would run on ahead and let me solve the problem.

But he didn’t run off….he stayed with me, and helped me troubleshoot.  He shone additional light to help me discover (after swiping my finger across my eye 4 times) that there was NO contact in that eye. I must have unwittingly wiped it out when I had earlier responded to a sensation of itchiness associated with my cold.

Product ImageFortunately I had a back-up set of contacts with me, but I had never tried to put them in while out in the field where I didn’t have additional saline solution in case I messed up.   No pressure or anything.

Whew!! The contact went in on the second try.  Duke stayed with me until the process was complete…..and you know….that simple act of kindness meant a great deal to me.

Truly it is this kind of seemingly insignificant close support in the clutch that makes all the difference in creating a trusting and fulfilling sense of teamwork.

Our days and nights were marked by many such simple acts of consideration, patience, and flexibility. Some examples off the top of my head:  helping a teammate button up a parka; bringing food if a teammate overslept breakfast; giving quiet space in the room so a sick team member could get extra rest;  assisting with the laundry; sharing food, snacks, vitamins, or medicine; staying cool in a car crash and finding a helpful role to support getting the car out of the snow bank; choosing considerate moments for a shower (we each took only 2 to 4 of them during the entire time); Teamworkwearing ear plugs to accommodate snoring; making a picture you know a teammate would love to have; digging a room key out of your bulky cold weather gear to get the door open for everyone; remembering to adjust the thermostat down to keep the team cool while layering up; allowing a teammate to support you even though you prefer to be independent; and…the list goes on.  At our best, everyone was looking out in every moment for how to contribute.  This spirit was vital to our success because we lived in very close quarters for an extended time with sleep deprivation, altered diets, and the daily stress of the arctic cold.


Panoramas in the Extended Crescent Moonlight

Contact crisis resolved, Duke and I went on to get some great panoramas.  Duke trained me up on how to work the camera to shoot them. Such fun to get a feel for it!  When he gets one of the image sets stitched together I’ll update this post with it.

The moon is Waxing Crescent on 15 March 2013 FridayWhen the aurora quieted down, I led us on a short walk up a small ridge in deep snow that was softly aglow with the light of a crescent moon. That crescent was still in the sky well after midnight!   In Atlanta or Salt Lake it would have been long gone below the western horizon.

Aaaah, but this is just one more of the joys and new perspectives of high latitude living!  In the arctic, the setting of the Moon, Sun, a planet, or a star is a long, drawn out affair. There is time for a photo like the one below where you can see Jupiter (brightest light at lower right) setting among the black spruce trees. Post 4 tells you exactly where I am and what I’m doing in support of this photo (HINT: wonder how the tent was lit?).


Click on the photo above for an expanded view. Works for most all of them!

Close Support from Family, Friends, and Countless Canadians

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Nobody on the team arrived, survived, or thrived on our expedition without the close support of family, friends, and the countless curious, caring, and capable people we encountered in Canada. Folks really know how to help one another in Yellowknife, and we strangers were readily included in the circle. The photo album here celebrates a few of the friendly folks that helped or inspired us.  Not all of them are officially Canadian, but they all conveyed a contagious community spirit that made a big difference to us.

Virtually every night of the journey, the team’s energy was boosted by a message from someone sharing our blog/photos, or by word of a new contributor on Kickstarter. NOTE:  There’s still time to contribute or to SHARE the blog out to your friends, teachers, and students. Let us know when you do, so we can include you on our growing list!

Thanks to Duke’s Supporters:  As mentioned in Post 4, Duke’s spouse Marsha and son James were on Skype everyday. I found this a precious injection of warmth into our Yellowknife existence.  I loved hearing 21-month old James gurgling with joy to see his Da-Da on the computer screen, and seeing Daddy Duke blow kisses interspersed with his soft words of endearment. In addition to caring for little James, Marsha has been assisting with image processing, including support for readying the high-resolution images needed to take advantage of our new NASA opportunity. Duke has also expressed his gratitude to Judit Fabian who loaned him her camera and lens (identical to his) so he could run the homemade vertical and horizontal panorama rig he’d designed.

Banff0014Thanks to Will’s Supporters: Will was in email touch with family and friends, and also with fellow teachers and students at Norcross High School.  His wonderful friends Becky and Roy in Calgary (with awesome kids, Aidan, Cotter, and Kaitlyn) had generously lodged and fed us (Will and me) in their home for a couple of days on our way to Yellowknife.  The photo above is on the deck of a pizza place after a snowy day in the Banff winter wonderland.  Can you tell that I don’t yet understand the capability of the wide-angle lens on Will’s camera?

Thanks to Cherilynn’s Supporters: I’d  like to acknowledge by name those in Atlanta who helped me to prepare (in a broad variety of ways) for making the most of this extraordinary expedition.  My heartfelt thanks go to Christine Peck, Clyde Ranney, Dr. Robin Kirby, Dr. Karen Hoffman,  the spirited ladies of the Table of Eight, and my new optometrist, Dr. Michael Stamboly, with his able assistants Clove and Chris who patiently taught me how to use the contacts (and a good thing too!). Thank you all from the bottom of my heart…

Jeff Morrow photoA very special shout out of gratitude goes to my beloved brother, Jeff Morrow, who provided ongoing mentorship for using WordPress and Live Writer while I was in Yellowknife. In January (when we met to reflect on the 1st anniversary of our dear father’s passage), Jeff helped me set up the ArtSciencEducation website and gain experience posting so I could bring you this blog.  He is a natural and talented life coach, and I have deeply appreciated his intuitive genius supporting me to live into this dream project.


Nutritional Support

Speaking of my brother leads me share more about our food choices during this expedition.  Part of Jeff’s work as a coach involves being a distributor of Isagenix nutritional products. I consumed high-quality protein shakes every day of the expedition to help keep me going, along with whatever fruits, vegetables, and fresh arctic fish I could find.

20130311_110048A common breakfast for me is pictured at right with bananas from a Yellowknife grocery store; apples, oranges, and honey from the Super 8 breakfast room; and the green tea, vitamins and Isagenix shake powder carried from home.  I sometimes added a wheat bagel and/or some raisin bran.

My teammates chowed down on at least two large waffles and two bagels each morning. While this may sound a bit gluttonous, remember that our grueling, after-hours schedule often led us to count on breakfast to provide the calories of two meals. Nobody gained weight on this expedition.

Dancing Moose logoI missed having eggs at the Super 8, but  enjoyed them at the Dancing Moose Café where Duke and I ate breakfast while staying at the Bayside B&B after Will left us. Their eggs benedict with arctic char was amazing! The beet and goat cheese salad was a favorite in the evening. By time we were at the Explorer hotel on the last day, our funds and time were too short for dining out. We lived on Cliff bars, blueberries, and bananas.  Duke added lunch meat, and I kept up with my Isagenix shakes.

While on this topic, it is only fair to acknowledge the Fisherman’s Friends I gobbled, and the cold medicine Duke gave me (and Will) from his impressive kit.  He had stuff I almost never take, but without which the snotcicle formations could have become quite troublesome in the field.

Can you possibly believe that NONE of us were coffee drinkers, and a total of two glasses of wine were the only alcoholic beverages consumed by the team (okay, by ME) over the entire trip?

Nobody consumed TV either, except for times that were hard to ignore in the Super 8 breakfast room when news coverage of the papal election process blared. More often, we enjoyed feeding the minds and hearts of fellow guests with our images.

Final Post?  No Guarantees…

Is this the Final Post?  Who knows. Except for a report on the outreach impact of our expedition (hopefully amplified by NASA’s recent interest in some of our images!), the bases are reasonably well covered, but there is always more to tell.

Yelloknives Dene First Nation - SealFor example,  I didn’t find anywhere in these posts to tell about the nap-time we spent exploring Cameron Falls, the Ice Truckers road,  and Dettah—a beautiful community of first nation people (Yellowknives Dene) right on the shoreline of the Great Slave Lake (the deepest lake in North America – more than 2,000 feet deep). These people were named for their tradition of trading “yellow” tools made from copper deposits.


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Duke and Will have the best photos of our nap-time outing, and also some fun photos from a colorfully lit community evening at the Snow King Castle when I decided stay in to rest and work on the blog.  The auroral photos made with their high-end cameras were first priority for processing.

The photos in the album here were made with the camera on my Galaxy S3 smart phone during our visit to the enchanted landscape around Cameron Falls.  Take your time to check out the sunlight & shadows, the shapes & sizes, the tracks & trails, and the colors both subtle and stark.

On the way to Dettah, running our little blue car in the extended arctic dusk, we were blessed to spy a pair of wild cats (lynx with bobbed tails and tufted ears) bounding across the road.  Though most of my adult life has been spent in Colorado, this was my first glimpse of a wild cat in the wilderness!

One of the cats turned to look back at us before dashing into the trees. Will was fast with his camera and got a shadow-y photo of his hind quarters which we’ll place in an update of this post (after he’s completed his comprehensive exams).


Knowing When to Quit

Knowing when to quit was not a strong suit of our hyper-dedicated team on this expedition, and I suppose this blog is no exception.  So now I will attempt… again…to conclude these blog entries for the Northern Lights Photo Expedition for Education.

I choose to close the story with a profound sense of gratitude for my multi-talented teammates, Duke Johnson and Will Stoll.  As a result of our challenging expedition together we are bonded even more profoundly as brothers-and-sisters-in-arms for passionate and inspiring science education that integrates art, technology, and the human spirit.


Whether you were able to tune in while we were in Yellowknife (4-16 Mar 2013), or are tuning in at some later time after the journey is done, we thank you so very much for your attention and for joining us in the spirit of this expedition.  We hope folks will enjoy the story we’ve documented and the resources we’ve provided here for many years to come. Here’s a link to Post 1 in case you’d like to start at the beginning.

20130312_184128 - CopyPerhaps we’ll find another adventure for sporting our monster-stylin’ arctic boots before the current solar maximum is done.  FYI…Duke’s “gi-normous” boots (leftmost in the row) are size 16. My glowing boots are a men’s size 8. Click the picture to see the flip flops at the right end!


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Solar maxima occur only every 11 years, so there aren’t very many in a lifetime.

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Live into your dreams!


On we go!

Post 7: Clouds and Snow out of Nowhere

NOTE: This post is a revised and updated version of the original Post 7 which was written with extreme time pressure under the influence of a potent cold medicine.

Duke and I arrived at Vee Lake at about 11 pm last night (Thurs 14 Mar 2013). Skies were crystal clear, and the aurora was quiet – only some soft greenish glows behind the tall and slender black spruce trees that are so plentiful here in the sub-arctic. These are the trees you see silhouetted in so many of the images we’ve posted.

We dozed in the car for a bit while Duke debated whether to go ahead to set up one of the cameras with a fish-eye lens in an alcove of trees the team had worked in before.  The “fish-eye alcove” was well protected from contamination by the headlights of occasional vehicles making their way onto the frozen lake…cars that contained ice fishermen, a fellow photographer, or sometimes aurora tour operators (although the tours did not usually venture that far in).

On a previous night, the same automated fish-eye set up had netted the time sequence of all sky images in the album above.  Enjoy flipping through the slide show to get a sense of the time evolution of the auroral structure overhead. Each image collects light for 15 seconds, and there is about a second in between images. So you’re stepping forward about 16 seconds in time with each image.


How Fast Do the Aurora Change?

I perceived the aurora to evolve at differing speeds, from lightning fast, to imperceptibly slow.  I liken the slow evolution to the way a line between shadow and light moves on a canyon wall in response to the changing time of day.  You can watch it intently and not perceive any motion, but after awhile notice that the line has shifted its position relative to the features of the rock.   Aurora watching can be like that…where you don’t perceive any movement, but then note that the auroral structure has changed after a time.   But when the Earth’s magnetic field experiences so called substorms in response to changes in the solar wind, the lights can change dramatically fast, with streamers, spirals, and waves racing across the sky.

After about 30 minutes of fitful dozing, we observed that the gentle glow we first observed seemed to be slowly growing, and that was enough of a sign to persuade Duke to go ahead with the fish eye installation. He jumped out and went to to the trunk to prepare the equipment.
I buttoned up and by the time I stepped out less than a minute later, there was an intensifying S-curve of light that had formed horizon to horizon! _MG_5588 Duke hadn’t yet seen the dramatic S-curve because his head had been in the trunk choosing the appropriate camera and affixing the fish-eye lens.  When I called his attention to the new auroral feature,  he exclaimed, “Oh Wow!” and didn’t even take time to put on his balaclava before moving out at remarkable speed across the snow and ice into the “fish-eye alcove” with the needed equipment.  The fast S-curve was just the beginning of a storm of lights that would morph and change more slowly all over the sky.


How Fast the Weather Changed!

After installing the automated camera with the fish eye lens to make a new set of all-sky images, we drove farther down the ice road of Vee Lake to our very favorite site to make some more panoramas….almost no cars venture that far in.  We could tell that the northern lights were still dancing and evolving overhead as we drove to the panorama site.   My soul ached to stop the car and just gaze up at the aurora, but we both felt that the existing activity was just the start of a long night of beautiful lights, and so reasoned that it was worth it to sacrifice this first outburst of the evening to get set up in the new position.

Duke donned his balaclava to protect his stinging cheeks, and charged out across the 1/4 mile of rutted snow and ice to set up for the envisioned panoramic shots.  I couldn’t keep up with him, and my unfolding cold symptoms were slowing me down as well.   Duke got a camera set up, but by the time I arrived at the position he’d chosen, we were both looking up into a sky full of clouds with the dim glow of aurora behind them.  Snow flurries pinged the tiny areas of exposed skin around our bewildered eyes.

The clouding out happened so quickly!  I told Duke that it reminded me of a time (Fall 1982) I was atop a 14,000-ft Hawaiian volcano (Maunakea) as a grad student doing astronomical observations. The air temperature wavered above and below the dew point so that in one instant the air was clear and you could see the lights of the island below, and the next instant the air would fuzz white before your very eyes…and then a minute later the white-out dissolved to clear again.

So we thought perhaps the clouds might go as fast as they’d come.  But after 20-30 minutes of standing in the cold, we gave up.  Soooo disappointing.  We hoped that at least the automated camera at the fish-eye alcove had captured the unfolding of the lights we’d missed during our drive to the panorama alcove.  We’ll see.


Cat and Mouse Games with the Aurora

We got back to the Bayside B&B parking, and should have gone up to bed, but instead a new formation of lights between the clouds lured us into trying to make some images in town with the Snow King Castle in the foreground (see Post 4 for daytime pictures of this remarkable structure devoted to the arts).

I scouted out a nifty perspective, appropriately shielded from town lights, and with the aurora in the sky behind the castle.  But by the time we set up a camera, the auroral lights were gone.

_MG_6920 _MG_6925We took the opportunity to give me some longed-for experience with a high-end camera.  My photos of the expedition were being made with the remarkably capable camera on my Galaxy S3 cell phone, and this was great for filling in our story for the blog, but I really wanted to get a feel for the Canon 6D and 5D-Mark II cameras Duke and Will had been using.

So, Duke showed me how to read and adjust f-stop, exposure time, and ISO as we made a few nighttime images of the castle and the Snow King sculpture.

Meanwhile, the heavy smoke and particles from the heating of the houseboats by the frozen Great Slave lake was becoming unbearably thick, and this hastened our retreat.

Our Thursday evening had proved to be a frustrating cat and mouse game with the northern lights, and we, being the frustrated cats, slogged back to the Bayside with our proverbial tails between our legs.


Malfunction of My “Arctic-naut” Diapers

Depends diaperAlso between my legs was a fresh load of pee leaking through my soggy Depends. [Okay, they didn’t have a more sophisticated  “astronaut” diaper at the Walgreens, and baring my female bum to arctic air was NOT an option!]  If we had called it a night before our futile attempt at “over the castle” photos of the aurora, I would have happily tinkled in the toilet shared by us and the several young Japanese and Korean guests staying at the Bayside.

Instead, and for the record, these “adult diapers” tend to work far better when one is sitting down.  I had to hand wash four layers of bottoms before going to bed in order that they might be dry for tonight’s excursion. Fortunately, my outermost layer of the orange down suit that had been so generously loaned to me was unaffected by the mal-function.  No worries, Pam!


Intrepid Explorers

Much of our nap time this afternoon (Friday 15 Mar 2013) was taken up by the need to move from the Bayside to a room at the Explorer Hotel, one of the few places in town with space available AND an elevator.  Duke had the added burden of running around to arrange for the repairs and return of our little blue rental car the next morning, while I tried to rest and tame my cold.  The smoke-filled night air in town last night exacerbated my cold symptoms, and by any sensible standard of physical well-being I have no business spending another night in the arctic cold, particularly on the eve of 20+ hours of traveling to get back to Atlanta.

But there is a perseverance that, by grace, arises in the heart and soul of a person dedicated to a meaningful mission.  Perhaps it is akin to the way an ineffable strength and endurance arises in parents caring for a new child, and it occurred to me that Duke’s impressive stamina may have been benefitting some from recent experience with his baby boy.

So we are about to head out for our last night in Yellowknife (Friday 15 March 2013).  And we are humbly appealing to the goddess of the aurora to grant us a great last night out.


NOTE: As I am writing this update of Blog Post #7 on Sunday evening (17 March 2013), I am back in Atlanta, having arrived on a red-eye flight at 6:15 am this morning. Sukhino - IMG956946My kitty Sukhino just came in from outdoors, and I gently picked her up to give her a snuggle, inadvertently causing the unseen live mouse between her teeth to fall out, jump across my arm, and scurry across the floor into hiding.  Aaaah….and so the cat and mouse games continue in a more concrete way, and fortunately I did not need an adult diaper to manage my response.

I will be continuing to add some posts to document our exhilarating last night out, the unfolding of our outreach efforts, the results of our Kickstarter campaign (ending on 4 April), and assorted other reflections.  Please stay tuned.

Post 6: Yoga While Waiting for a Comet

Tree Pose_MG_1591On Tuesday (11 Mar 2013) we made our first attempt to see and photograph comet PAN-STARRS, an ancillary mission to the prime one of photographing the northern lights.  We were hearing from friends and relatives further south how the comet’s subtle loveliness appeared to them in the western sky just after sunset. We learned the hard and cold way how the long arctic twilight (due to the Sun setting at such a low angle) can inhibit near-horizon comet searches.

The dusky light you see in the sky of the photo above lasted until about 9:30 pm, when we finally gave up our attempt to catch sight of the comet’s tail. To pass the time and keep a bit warmer during our “comet watch” we tried some yoga poses in cold-weather clothing.

The bulk of the layers you see on me in tree pose (in red parka above) are still nowhere near the thickness of layers we wear when out for the night to photograph the aurora. It became so cold so rapidly after the Sun disappeared behind the horizon that we were wishing for more of those layers,  including our balaclavas (face masks) and arctic boots.

Cherilynn headstand_MG_1607Will headstand_MG_1605Duke and I froze our toes in our insulated winter boots, but Will had wisely chosen to wear his arctic boots to the comet hunt. Such boots are MUCH heavier and more thickly insulated, and while they are good for warm toes, they are perhaps not so good for ease of balance in a headstand. Physics students, consider the enhanced torque caused by the weight of Mr. Stoll’s boots as he extends his feet in the air.  Given the image you see of him (in the black and gray), which direction do you predict he will be rotating?

Later on Tuesday evening (11-12 Mar 2013), Duke made an attempt to record a set of images that could be stitched together in a panorama.  He completed the stitching process today as we worked in the Bayside B&B guest lounge (Click on the image below to see the full-width results).  He also created a time lapse of some photos made with a fish-eye lens.  Stay tuned for this in the next blog post.

Aurora_5537 Panorama small Marsha CR

The Bayside lounge where we have been working this afternoon has big windows overlooking the vast expanse of the frozen Great Slave Lake. As we worked, our attention was occasionally drawn outward to see a ski plane land, a skimobile cruise by, or just a moment ago, a young person in a fur-trimmed parka glided by on what looked like the back of a dog sled with a double-ski’ed structure, but was being self-propelled as if the rider were on a scooter or skate board.  A gleefully barking black labrador was running full tilt out front and alongside the sled/scooter and this signaled us to pull our heads out of our computers. When the northern lights are bright, the owners at the Bayside say you can see them from the deck.

Now it is time to find dinner and get ready for tonight. The weather is clear skies, and based on information from these websites [,,],  it is entirely possible that tonight and tomorrow night will be the best auroral activity experienced on this expedition!

To document it,  we will have to manage the cold, and more importantly the wind chill factor!  The weak aurora and severe wind chill caused us to retreat early last night (Wed 13 Mar 2013) without making any more images.

It’s my experience that arctic cold works a bit like water.  If I expose an open cuff or muff to the cold, it is like a water leak, with arctic air flowing in and almost instantly cooling me in a way that is challenging to recover from without  doing something physical to generate additional body heat.

Comet_MG_7067Hey hey! Duke just sent me our image of the comet from the Bush Pilot monument in town (Yellowknife) last night.  The comet was NOT visible to the naked eye, but the masterful Duke found it by zooming into the right part of the sky relative to the new crescent moon.  Click into the image to enlarge it and see if you can find the comet yourself!

Oh, by the way, while comet hunting last night to get the above image, we read about the amazing bush pilots who pioneered these parts many decades ago, but we did NOT do any yoga poses on this particular outing.

Wish us warmth!  On we go!

Post 5: Pondering What it Will be Like to Brave -40F

_MG_6943The team shot some new scenery last night that offers a flavor of some of the local environs in Yellowknife.  There will be more photos in a subsequent post, but here is one of our favorite compositions with an old mine on the road to our usual site of Vee Lake.

We tried for the comet, but the arctic twilight is so extended we couldn’t get it.  We did headstands while we were waiting…..Perhaps you think I’m kidding, but no, really we did (photos soon).

Our teammate Will is en route to Atlanta as I write this. We just exchanged emails before he got on his flight from Edmonton. Duke and I will carry on for another couple of days in hopes of catching some northern lights influenced by a recent Coronal Mass Ejection from the Sun.

Weather Office says – 40F tonight….which is the same as -40C.  It’s so hard to imagine that this temperature is about 100F lower than Atlanta or Salt Lake City was today. The camera equipment won’t work very well in such deep cold so we’re going to try going out very soon now.  We are in the Mountain Time Zone.

Duke and I moved from the Super 8 to the so-called Bayside B&B to save money.  We ate dinner in the adjoining Dancing Moose Café. I enjoyed a most delectable arctic char.  We’re in a cool location near the Bush Pilot’s monument – the high point in town.  We trooped up there after dinner and tried again to see the comet PANSTARRS conjoined with the crescent moon just after sunset.   Duke shot a photograph and we could see it very dimly on the camera screen but not naked eye.

Duke spoke with Marsha by Skype who saw the comet easily from their home outside Salt Lake City.   Aaaah well….no catching a comet’s tail, but oooooh did we catch some aurora last night on Will’s last night.  Spurred by an email comment from my dear friend and Kickstarter donor, Susan Carabello, I literally danced with the lights last night.

Now that Will is gone, I will attempt to step into more camera duty, however I will need more daytime practice, and tonight’s extreme cold is not a night for the relatively inexperienced.

As were out trying to find the comet, we felt the wind without out balaclavas (face masks).  The wind chill at such low temperatures is so amazing to me. I mean even with gentle air movement that doesn’t move a slender branch, the wind cuts into our bare skin and makes a burning, stinging sensation that cannot be endured for long.  We will bare no skin tonight as we move to brave the lowest temperatures I have ever experienced in my life.

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.

Post 3: Awed by the Arctic Lights – Humbled by the Cold and a Car Crash. An Amazing Night!

_MG_5599Last night Will and I smashed our personal records for experiencing cold, down another 10 degrees to 35 below zero (–35F/ –37C).  My  life dream of beholding the aurora dancing in the sky above me was outrageously fulfilled.  There were moments no one photograph could capture, with the sky overhead (and in three directions nearer to the horizons) filled with rippling, waving, and spiraling lights…like God’s screensaver.  We were bathed in the ghostly, greenish glow, which was also subtly reflected by the snow.   Woman with red hood, black mask, and head lamp. With frosted eyes. Even the locals found this night of northern lights especially remarkable.

Such gratitude I feel for the pure, unadulterated awe I experienced…crying and laughing at the same time…stumbling in the uneven snow and ice to keep my feet as I gazed up and around me….twirling with dizzying delight till I fell back onto the frozen ground,  surrendering to the overwhelming nature of the experience. My tears formed a sticky frost on my eyelashes. Click on the image of me in my red hood for a closer look.  What a glorious night!

Only slightly less astonishing was the concurrent discipline and perseverance of my teammates Duke and Will, who manned and maneuvered their tripod-mounted cameras in harsh and distracting conditions with a focused devotion to duty I can only imagine might be paralleled by men in battle.

While the lights danced all over the sky, my teammates bravely committed their cameras to a particular scene, and worked myriad tiny buttons and levers to optimize focus, field of view, and exposure time for the best shot in rapidly changing conditions.  They had to know their instruments intimately because all of this was happening with the dulled dexterity of their gloves, the limited light of their headlamps, and my empassioned appeals to behold extraordinary auroral swirls forming in yet another direction.

The equipment would occasionally slow or even fail in the cold, and at one point Duke had to rig a manual “bulb” exposure mechanism to replace a failed auto shuttering cable. To keep the cameras functioning, we had to take breaks to warm them in our little blue car. We’d take advantage of those times to migrate to another site for photography.  At our last site, just before dawn, one of the electronic cables became so brittle that it snapped like a twig, and today Duke borrowed a soldering iron from a trusting local merchant to attempt repair.  Hmmm… refreshing change of perspective here in northern Canada. We like it!

man with legs spread before camera on tripod photographing large green swirl of aurora in the arctic sky

What Causes Aurora?

Aurora are ghostly, colorful, and dynamic patterns of light emanating from atoms and molecules in Earth’s upper atmosphere that have been excited by collisions with charged particles coming from the Sun.  The charged particles are part of an ongoing million mile per hour stream called the solar wind, but it is not at all like wind on Earth. The colors we see or detect with our cameras depend on the type of atom that is giving off the light, generally some form of oxygen or nitrogen which are the most abundant elements in our atmosphere. The variety of shapes are controlled by disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field, along which the charged particles move. The aurora occur in the polar regions of Earth 24/7, but can only be observed when skies are clear and dark. The lights are especially active and dynamic when the Sun is magnetically active, and we are currently in a time period when solar activity is rising toward a so-called solar maximum.

A Gallery of Selected Images from Last Night

The team recorded over 500  images last night (6-7 March 2013).  Below is a photo gallery of some of the best shots.  They are the fruits of the dedication of my intrepid teammates who sacrificed a more soulful experience of the lights for the cause of recording these dramatic images for our educational mission.

This project’s primary mission is to share this experience of the Northern Lights with younger people and others who remain touch with their child-like sense of wonder about our universe. In keeping with that purpose, the team sends special greetings to the ASTRONOMY CLASS at NORCROSS HIGH SCHOOL where Will currently teaches physics!  We understand they will be tuning into our blog tomorrow.  WE LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR QUESTIONS!  Tomorrow,  I (Cherilynn) will be sending information out to physics students from several semesters of teaching at Georgia State University in Atlanta.  Duke is feeding information everyday back to his workplace at Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City.

As you view the images below, remember that the camera integrates light for several seconds, and the human eye for only about 1/30th of a second. Thus the brightness and colors you see in the images are not exactly what the human eye perceives in real time.  Even so, the photographs are compelling works of art that we hope will stir your soul!  Perhaps they will inspire you to want to see the amazing arctic lights for yourself one day.  Let the frosty eyelashes from my tears of joy help to assure you that it’s well worth the journey.


PS.  At 4:30 am, on our way back in this morning, we accidentally spun out on the ice with our little blue car and smashed it into a snow bank. Yes, we smashed more than personal temperature records (ahem). The cold, brittle plastic of the front bumper was shattered like glass, and we were stuck and had to dig out using a little avalanche shovel that Will had brought with him on the trip.  These things happen, and the team is maintaining a very positive and mutually supportive attitude.



PPS. To add to our challenges, an hour ago a pipe broke outside our Super 8 motel room. The hallway and our doorway were both flooded with water. The hotel has no other room to put us in. That’s lucky, because it would be a monumental effort to move all of our gear, and we have too many other things to do to be ready for tonight.

Nothing can dampen the sublime glory and satisfaction of our amazing nights with the northern lights. We’re about to turn off the large fan that is drying the wet carpet in order to take a little nap.  My teammates are happily snoring away in the bed next to mine, so I need to stop and publish this blog to take some rest myself. You can imagine that our sleeping and eating cycles are pretty jumbled.  Our plan upon waking from the nap at 10pm is to buy 2-for-1 subs (available at the local Subway after 10 pm) on our way to explore a new observing site called Prelude Lake.

On we go!

Post 2: Frosty Faces in Subzero Temperatures

5470 large

We staged this photo while the aurora was especially quiet last night.  Two of us, Will (left) and Cherilynn (middle) experienced the coldest temperatures of our lives (–25 F = –32 C), and it is predicted to be even colder tonight.  This temperature map gives you an idea of current temperatures across Canada, including Yellowknife in the far north. You can type (or select) Northwest Territories and Yellowknife in the query boxes to see more detail about the temperatures we are meeting each day of our Amazing Arctic Adventure.

5469 team crop

Duke, our expedition leader, experienced his personal record for cold in 2001 when he and his partner, Marsha, made a trek to Yellowknife during the last maximum of solar activity.  Many of the nights out for this special couple were as cold as –40 F, and this is the temperature where the Farenheit and Celcius scales meet up.  Yep!  –40 F is the same as –40 C.  Our Duke grew up in North Dakota, so he has the thickest skin of the three of us.  Will and I (Cherilynn) are currently living in Atlanta, Georgia where the temperature almost never goes below freezing (32 F = 0 C).

At such low temperatures you need a lot of protection to keep the climate of your body warm enough to function during long hours of exposure.  Aside from the many layers of down that make us all appear like advertisements for a famous French tire company, the boots and the balaclava are key items.   Some of you may remember my posting on Facebook when I purchased them from – a marvelous, high consciousness company with whom I enjoyed interacting so much (and no, they are not paying me to write that!).

Baffin boots    Balaclava - Outdoor Research

The Baffin boots pictured above are temperature rated for –100°C/–148°F!  You might think this is overdoing it since the lowest natural temperature so far recorded at the surface of the Earth is only −89.2 °C (−128.6°F).  However, for longs hours of shooting photography in the Arctic night, you need boots like this, and a few layers of hearty socks to keep the toes toasty warm (lovin’ that Smartwool!).   In a later post, I’ll upload a recording of the eerie sounds that occur when the soles of these boots walk on the snow and ice of Vee Lake where we are shooting our images.

Oh yes….the lights!  We recorded the image below last night (5-6 March 2013).  We were out for about 3 hours, and this time hauled equipment considerably farther from our little blue car, which was parked about 1/4 mile away from our camera set up on the side of one of the lake’s several ice roads.  By the way, this is a long exposure (~20-25 seconds) on an evening when the aurora were not particularly active.  The image shows you an intensity of color and structure that our naked eyes did not perceive.  It’s pretty exciting though, when an image like this pops up on the digital display.  I happened to be the one who made the exposure on this one, following the expert set-up Duke provided. Duke is an amazing photographer, flowing with an inspiring blend of intuition and technical expertise.











Now back to the “balaclava”. Nope!  It is NOT a Greek dessert (baklava),  nor a Russian folk stringed instrument (balalaika), but a saving grace for protecting the skin of your face from arctic cold. We called them “balas” to help keep the syllables straight. The name “balaclava” derives from the town of Balaklava, near Sevastopol in Crimea, UKRAINE where British troops had been issued this sort of cold-weather “soft helmet” that covered the entire neck and head with holes for the eyes and mouth. The town is known for the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War due to the suicidal Charge of the Light Brigade, when a British cavalry was mistakenly sent up a valley held on three sides by the Russians ( Oooo….better to have the northern lights on all three sides, with us pointing and shooting cameras at them!

Balaklava - Aerial 900px-Panorama_ChembaloOh yes…another tad of history…During the more recent Cold War, Balaklava was home to a top secret Soviet nuclear submarine base that stopped operating in 1993 and is now a museum for tourists. Good idea! The portal for the base can be seen as a re-enforced stone archway built into the hillside at the upper right of the aerial image of the town (above). Click on the image for a closer look!  As a physics major I had been recruited to teach in the US Navy’s nuclear submarine program, but at the time women were not permitted to go out on the submarines.  Early in his career, my teammate Will did take the job of teaching in this program.  Now he teaches high school students…Good idea!

The close-up mug shots below show how our balaclavas and hoods looked just before we came in from the cold, as it were .  Enjoy noticing how the moisture of breath has frosted us over. I snapped these FROSTY FACES with the  2-way camera in my Galaxy S3 smartphone, which had been staying warm in the breast pocket of my parka.  I used E-tip liner gloves that allowed me to use the phone’s touch interface without exposing bare hands to the cold. Will’s photo (at right) provides the best view of the mask-like character of the balaclava. Click on the images for a closer view!!

Frosty Face - Duke 20130306_004816Frosty Face -Will 20130306_004747

Meanwhile, we also learned last night how important it is to button up that hood muff to keep the arctic cold from creeping in. If you lose core heat from your neck and torso, the blood withdraws from the fingers and toes and you cannot last in the cold. We have so many layers to fit that it was often hard to get that muff zipped up. So we also learned the value of helping each other out, like mothers tending to children as they bundle them up to play in the snow.  We are a great team!

We are privileged and grateful to be living this dream of adventure and service, and are very excited about reports of increased chances of enhanced auroral displays in the coming days due to the Sun’s rising activity.  Please stay tuned to the daily blog entry here and share with your friends (thanks to Christine and Marsha for already doing some of this!).

And if the spirit moves you, please consider pledging some support for us at our Kickstarter site .  It was such an exhilarating moment for the team to see our first few pledges on the site yesterday.  It’s all or nothing. so if we don’t make our modest financial goal, then no funds are transferred.

BananasOkay, my teammates have just returned from a shopping spree for food.  How delightful that they were able to find bananas out there – a tropical fruit from a latitude about 40 degrees south of our base here in Yellowknife!

Now we need to eat, check equipment, bundle up, and get ready to move out! The sky is crystal clear and Will and I will certainly break our personal record for experiencing cold temperatures tonight.   Stay warm out there, wherever you are, and send a little warmth our way.

Oh!  and We are more than happy to answer any questions that are posted in the comments.

On we go!

Post 1: The Amazing Arctic Adventure is Launched!!!

5430_from 4-3 swirThe Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights – are among the most amazing phenomena a  human being can behold. They are stunningly beautiful, and a marvelous context for exciting wonder, inspiring science learning, and presenting a supreme challenge for the art and technology of photography in extreme cold and dark conditions.

The Northern Lights Photo Expedition for Education is officially launched!! On the first night out together our team recorded the image at left (click on it to see larger version). We heard today that the Sun’s magnetic activity is picking up, and so we are hopeful for more.

Tonight (Tuesday 5 March 2013) is predicted to go to -35 F so we are putting on all the cold weather gear we have in hopes that it will be enough to protect us. We are even putting special camera “cozies” on the cameras to keep them warm and functional. We are about to go out now, as soon as I complete this first post from the base of our humble Super 8 motel in Yellowknife, capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories.

The three passionate science educators comprising the expedition team (shown in the photo below) share adventurous and hearty spirits. We are taking unpaid leave and vacation time to commit to this self-financed photo expedition to the Arctic to record the aurora  for planetariums and schools, and to blog the adventure so that anyone interested can follow along in near real time during the period 4-16 March 2013.

Team Faces - close up at YZF 20130304_140724Duke Johnson (at right with dark glasses) is our expedition leader. He holds a masters degree in space science, and is currently the education/exhibits manager at Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City. Duke is an award winning photographer, and you can sample some of his marvelous astrophotography here.

Yours truly (Dr. Cherilynn Morrow in the middle with purple hat) is leading the team’s public outreach and blogging initiative.  My PhD is in solar physics and I have many years of experience teaching undergraduates and science teachers.  I was a NASA senior scientist who advised educational efforts on several space missions. In 2007, I blogged the launch of Japan’s moon mission for the Planetary Society. More recently (June 2012) I served as an science and education commentator for the NASA webcast of the Venus transit from atop a Hawai’ian volcano, including the use of song and a Kinesthetic Astronomy demonstration.  Duke and I share a passion for the joy and effectiveness of kinesthetic teaching and learning.

Will Stoll (at left in the photo above) is assisting the overall photographic and outreach mission. In particular, he is coordinating the educational outreach of our adventure to several K-12 schools.  He is a high school physics teacher, experienced outdoorsman, world traveler, and a PhD candidate in science education. Will and I are collaborating on research related to study the pathways of graduate students into the field of solar and space physics.

The team convened in Yellowknife on the afternoon of Monday 4 March 2013. Duke had arrived the day before and met Will and I coming in from Calgary at the Yellowknife airport. He was driving our little blue Ford Focus rental car from Rent-a-Relic. Click on the image to get a somewhat closer view of the fresh faces of this promising team, joined together for the first time.

DukeWillCher - Arrival Yellowknife Airport - 4 Mar 2013 _MG_5416

Airplane - flying to Yellowknife

License Plate

With our Kickstarter website, we are inviting our friends, extended families, and other interested folks to support us, either by tuning into this blog, and/or by offering a financial contribution to offset the rather extreme costs of even our most budget-conscious efforts to outfit and implement this expedition. We are pleased to offer you printed photographs of the aurora in return for your contributions.  Please go to the site for further details.

We have many more ideas and insights to share as the expedition flows along, but now it is time to get dressed and get out there to Vee Lake (all frozen of course – we drive our little car onto it!)  to a place we scouted out this afternoon where we will meet the clear and predicted cold of –35 F to see and record whatever amazing arctic lights we can!



Post 0: Amazing Arctic Adventure – Yellowknife

On 4 March, I will join forces with two extraordinary colleagues in science education (Duke Johnson and Will Stoll) in Yellowknife, CANADA (almost to the Arctic Circle) to experience and photograph the northern lights.  Our expedition will extend until the morning of 16 March 2013 to give us the best chance of catching a stretch of cloudless nights.

Duke is the education manager at Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City and an award-winning amateur photographer. He will lead our expedition. Will is a high school physics teacher pursuing his PhD in Education at Georgia State University. I received a PhD in solar physics from the University of Colorado, and over time have morphed into a science educator, yoga instructor, and emerging singer/songwriter

I have worked closely with both Duke and Will, and they are amazing. You’ll learn more about all of us as the blog unfolds. We are all passionate educators and integrators of art and science as we quest for skywatching adventure that can inspire and inform learners of all ages!

Stay tuned!


Travel Essay – Lunar Standstill

Chimney Rock - full moon rise between rock pillars during  lunar standstill season

Chimney Rock, CO: Rise of a northernmost full moon through the pillars, photographed during the last lunar standstill season from an observation point established by Ancestral Puebloan People.

‘Standstill’ My Beating Heart: A Lunar Love Affair is the title of a playful yet fundamentally reverent essay related to my sense of awe and privilege upon observing moonrises with archaeoastronomers in Chaco Canyon (NM) and in Chimney Rock (CO) during the last “major lunar standstill season” (2004-2007). The original essay was published on The title link at the bottom of this entry provides a significantly upgraded version with evolved prose and more photos.  Chimney Rock became a National Monument in 2012!

Standstill My Beating Heart – A Lunar Love Affair – blog version