The Northern Lights

August 28, 2001

Photograph taken at 12:45 a.m. when little was visible above the horizon.  Looking north-northeast.

This and the remaining photographs taken at approximately 4:00 a.m.  Looking north-northwest. 

Looking north-northeast.

Looking northeast.

Looking north.  Note the big dipper.

August 28, 2001: Yesterday, I eagerly anticipated a big display of the northern lights, due to a major X-class solar flare that occurred just two days prior on Saturday.

However, after the energy reached the earth's outer atmosphere on Monday afternoon, I quickly realized that it would not likely result in a big display.

And so I questioned going out to the farm to see if the northern lights would make an appearance.

However, I had a tent set up in a pasture from a family get-together over the weekend at my home farm.  I didn't want to leave the tent up another day, as the sun's rays can be hard on a tent, and it wasn't sitting in a shade (no trees in this pasture - just grass, rocks and a fence).  Also, I wanted to get all the crickets out of the tent as they like to chew on things (hopefully not my tent).

So I thought I might as well go to the farm and take the tent down the next morning before driving into Bismarck.

Upon arriving at 10 p.m., I cleared the tent of bugs, and then set up my two cameras on tripods and left them standing outside.  As I did this, I thought "this isn't going to happen four months from now."  The camera batteries would be frozen within minutes in the temperatures that can easily reach -10 to -20 degrees Farenheit in winter (and even lower sometimes, -30 to -40 degrees).

Also, I wouldn't want to sleep in my tent then either - at least the batteries would have some life left in them if they were warmed up after being outside in the cold air all night.  And besides, there's little chance I could get to this location in the winter unless I rode snowmobile or cross-country skied.

Anyway, compared to taking photographs in the winter, this was a luxury - cameras outside and ready to go, a comfortable place to sleep, and a screened window to look out of should the northern lights appear.

At about 12:45 a.m. this morning, I woke up from a wild dream (yes, I still can remember what it was about), and without moving, looked out the screen to the north-northeast (sure is quicker than being in Bismarck and walking down to the computer to see if the lights are out, and then driving out to take photographs).

I did see some real weak activity, and so I got up and quickly took about six photographs.  The arc in the north-northeast sky was apparent, but very low - only about 5 degrees above the horizon.

After taking photographs, I went back to the tent to sleep - easy to do when the tent is right there.

Then at 3:45 a.m., I awoke again and looked out the screen.  This time, the activity was significantly better as activity was about 20 to 30 degrees above the horizon, and there were some features (skinny rays, and areas which went from bright to dull to bright).

I took a couple of rolls of photographs this time.

YIKES
Then something happened that scared me while standing outside on the prairie on a cool, dark night.  I heard a screeching noise - and needless to say, it was very creepy.  An owl, about one-half mile away, had found a meal - of what, I don't know, but whatever the owl had caught, it was voicing it's displeasure.

Even though I knew I was not in danger, I stood close to my vehicle as I took more photographs.

Then it happened again.  Oh well, I thought, at least the owl should be full for awhile.

Soon the northern lights lost all features and faded to a diffuse glow.  I quickly crawled back into my sleeping bag and fell asleep.

While the storm was not the "big one" that everyone had hoped for (I would call it a "dud" based on everyone's anticipation of a major show), I still was pleased to see a modest display as I enjoy viewing the northern lights at any intensity.

And yes, I could have had better composition on my photographs - a windmill in the foreground for example - but my warm sleeping bag, and thoughts of sleep kept me close to my tent.

Anyway, there's going to be more displays, and more chances to take photographs.

Photograph taken at 12:45 a.m. when little was visible above the horizon.  Looking north-northeast.

Back.

www.prairiejournal.com

Hit Counter