Post 1: Arriving Near the Top of the World!

Duke and I traveled radically different routes from the US to rendezvous at the airport in Oslo (capital of Norway) a couple of days ago.  We took the same flight from Oslo to Tromso, sitting on opposite sides of the airplane. The album above shows you a bit of the exotic nature of our location. Snowy, jagged alpine peaks thrusting a thousand or two meters from dramatic sea level fyords.

From the Tromso airport we took bus #42 into town to rent our “micro-sized” Toyota YARIS into which we were barely able to squeeze our gear.  It will be interesting when our teammate Will arrives on Sunday to fit three of us AND all the gear for our nightly excursions to chase the northern lights.

Erik - Couch Surfer Host 20140228_110528It was raining the night of our arrival and so we sought the safe haven of our kind and precocious couch surfing host Erik (pictured at left). Erik is studying French literature at the local university. He had earned a degree in Spanish from the University of North Dakota where Duke also had gone to school years before. That’s four languages and counting! Cherilynn and Duke are bracketing Erik in the happy image below.

Cherilynn, Erik, Duke in TromsoWe dined all together at a local restaurant called Kaia that was right on the water near to the place where cruise ships come into port.  It was very interesting and VERY expensive. We certainly won’t be doing that much more.  Note the interesting item “with cream sauce” on the menu below (click to enlarge – for any image).Reindeer Menu Compare

P1030420In addition, while we were waiting for our food, a boat docked right outside the window with a hot tub full of well-sculpted men at the stern. We have self-censored the photo for which they willingly and joyfully posed. Let us call it a brand of “indecent” Northern Exposure, although in Scandanavian culture, the lovely human body is a perfectly natural thing to display.

Far North of NorwayThe geography here is fascinating. Check out the map at right (click to enlarge) to see how  Norway (orange) arcs over the north of both Sweden (yellow) and Finland (green) to share a border with Russia in the east!  Duke and I had a nearer-than-intended encounter with the Finnish/Lapland border last night (28 Feb- 1 Mar), while traveling the Northern Lights highway to the southeast from Tromso.  More in our next post.

Now it is time to ready for this evening’s excursion.  It turns out that the weather report in Tromso (we are using has only a little to do with whether skies are clear in the midst of the surrounding mountains.  This invites us to “chase” around the local microclimates in search of clear skies and our best possibility of making images of the northern lights.

Of course the Sun’s activity and Earth’s magnetic field must also cooperate. We need both good Earth weather and good Space “weather”!

Post 0: 2nd Northern Lights Adventure!

Duke Johnson, Will Stoll, and Cherilynn Morrow. Yellowknife Airport. March 2013

Duke Johnson, Will Stoll, and Cherilynn Morrow. Will send-off. Yellowknife Airport. March 2013

HERE WE GO AGAIN!  The Tremendous Trio of impassioned science educators is traveling to Tromso, NORWAY to photograph the northern lights!  Last year (2013) our northern lights adventures took us to Yellowknife, CANADA.  The blog for that mission starts here and also tells you a bit about who we are. Yellowknife was so enlivening (including the outreach mission after we returned) we could not resist another opportunity during this solar maximum. The next one is 11 years from now.  Carpe diem!

There is a LOT more chance of cloudiness in Tromso compared to Yellowknife, but it is worth taking the chance to go because of the pervasively enchanting scenery.  We yearn to see and share images of the northern lights reflected in water and/or illuminating some snow capped peaks.

Sooo…come along with the Tremendous Tromso Trio  via this blog!  The team looks forward to your comments and questions.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.  – Mark Twain



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 


The 2012 Venus Transit from the Summit of Mauna Kea – HAWAII

Feminine Rising on Maunakea (1)This photo by Ron Bland was made atop a 14,000-ft volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii just after a 7-hour NASA webcast of the 2012 Venus Transit of the Sun. Cherilynn (rising at left with buttocks eclipsing the Sun of the glorious sunset) served as a science commentator, science educator, and singer in support of the webcast. The extraordinary teamwork and mutual support on the summit among the scientists, educators, and webcast crew (NASA EDGE) gives us all reason to hope for humanity.  Everyone contributed in deference to bringing to the world the best possible program to honor this rare and remarkable celestial event. The other three silhouettes are of young women who also supported the outreach activities. When I saw the beautiful photo I named it Feminine Rising in the spirit of the occasion, and I knew that I would write a song by that name, perhaps even with this photo on an album cover!

Blog of Japan’s Moon Launch

Launch of Kaguya Spacecraft - Sept 2007

Launch of Kaguya Spacecraft – Sept 2007

Cherilynn Morrow was part of a NASA delegation standing with JAXA scientists and engineers at the remote Tanegashima Space Center on 14 September 2007 to observe the launch of Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft to the Moon. She provided a guest blog for the Planetary Society of near real-time events leading up to and including the launch. The link to this blog is being restored. Meanwhile enjoy a glorious Earthrise recorded by Kaguya’s HD camera.