On 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.
Duke 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.
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 [http://spaceweather.com, http://auroraforecast.com, http://astronomynorth.com/aurora-forecast/], 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.
Hey 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!