10 October 2012

What are we here for?

Travelling on this ship in Norway isn’t as serious as Ellington’s original: we are here for the Aurora Borealis. Megan had never seen an aurora and it was the genesis of this trip. I’d seen one, or at least the Aurora Australis, our Southern counterpart, outside Bungendore in a break while playing with White Cockatoo, a bush band, in ~1990. That was a beautiful and established memory: rippling blues and reds and greens in a curtain stretching from ~10-60 degrees from the horizon. We had been worrying that we’d miss this one. All the way from Bergen, the sky had been overcast or raining. Then we wondered if it was too early in the year or if there was too much moon. We avidly checked aurora prediction websites and the SOHO observatory and meteorological sites. The background level was 2 on a scale of 7, ie, low auroral activity. This didn’t sound too exciting. But then the sites raised short-term forecasts to high activity on the night of 7/8 October due to an observed Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). (Aurorae are charged particles from an active Sun that glow when caught in the Earth’s magnetic field. They peak every 11 years with the sunspot cycle and have a 28 day sub-cycle related to solar rotation. Unpredictable CMEs can send particles to Earth and cause otherwise unexpected auroral activity). But the weather was predicted to be overcast. In the end, at 10pm, the sky was clear, the Moon was not risen and the aurora was stunning. We saw streams of green over the ship, horizon to horizon: we were right under it. Mostly yellow-green, but with some rare tinges of red or purple at the edges; constant, billowing movement; great clouds or sinuous snakey trails; occasional whisps or dark lines. Stunning beauty. We got out at 1am and 4am too, but nothing like the first. I got some pics, but not as good as those of Thomas Stutz of Switzerland with his Nikon full frame and 14-24 f2.8 lens and tripod and 3sec exposures at ISO1600. His were superb. Here are a few of mine (handheld) and the link to Thomas’ site. Expect Thomas' pics by end October.

  • Thomas Stutz photos
  • No comments: