A Christmas Show

December 24, 2001
Photographs taken on December 24, 2001 between 4:35 and 5:00 a.m.

Okay, so everyone thinks I am a little eccentric after this last episode of "chasing" the northern lights.

I happened to wake up at 4 a.m. on Christmas Eve morning.  Walking by the computer, I remembered that there was a slight chance of northern lights - possibly triggered by a "high speed" solar wind originating from a coronal hole on the sun.

In checking out a number of web sites, I saw that there was a minor geomagnetic storm, and that at my latitude - 47 degrees north - the northern lights would be out.  Other web sites showed clear skies.  Yeah!

I quickly put on my clothes, including long underwear as it is cold in North Dakota this time of the year.  I then started driving to the farm 15 miles north of Bismarck, and soon realized that I had the four-lane highway mostly to myself - no surprise at that time of the morning.

On the way to the farm, I could easily see a bright arc to the north, along with an occasional ray.  I couldn't get to the farm fast enough because I know that the northern lights can go from active to "nothing" in a matter of minutes.

By 4:35 a.m., I had my tripod set up and started taking photographs.  Then to my amazement, I looked to the northwest - where the strongest activity was taking place - and saw that the sky was red.  I didn't expect this high level of activity from a "coronal hole," but there it was.  

I quickly took a number of photographs of the red glow to the northwest, and of a number of rays to the north.

My fingers and toes got very cold as it was between 0 and 10 degrees Farenheit, along with a cool northwest wind.  I tried to park the vehicle so that I would be protected from the wind.  

The batteries went out on my camera, and so I used my spare camera as I did not want to waste time changing batteries when the activity was strong.

The red glow left the sky prior to 5 a.m.  I continued to view the northern lights until 6 a.m.  It was just a very bright "white-blue" glow, with minimal movement.  However, still beautiful!  

During that time, I drove to a number of locations on the farm to capture different foregrounds.  As I did this I thought - this is about the one year in 10 I can do this as the snow cover is minimal - less than 1 inch in most places.  Most years, I can't even drive out of the yard because of the deep snow.  

I left the farm just after 6 a.m., and was back in bed by 6:30 a.m.  

Eccentric?  Yeah, probably, but the effort was well worth it as I got to see my "Christmas lights."

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