Wallpaper Wednesday: Aurora Borealis

4 09 2013
Big Aurora. Image copyright Göran Strand.

Big Aurora. Image copyright Goran Strand.

Earlier this week, the Universe Today blog featured aurora photographs taken by Frank Olsen and Göran Strand. Both photos were beautiful, but I’m in love with luminous sky in the image Strand posted on his blog last week. I’m also in love with his description of the scene: he claims that photo looks as “if a green blanket was put on top of the sky (om en grön filt lagts över vår himmel)”. This aurora is much friendlier than the goblinesque northern lights that frightened me as a child.

Aurora Watching at Aurora Sky Station, Abisko, Sweden

4 02 2013

Aurora watching at Aurora Sky Station, Abisko, Sweden, January 19, 2013 from Tim Nordström on Vimeo.

(Astro)photographer Vorrarit Anantsorrarak (aka CoolBieЯe)

25 09 2012

Some More Dream. Image Credit: Vorrarit Anantsorrarak (CoolBieЯe)

This photo has been circulating through facebook with some sort of quasi-spiritual text attached to it. The first time it showed up in my timeline, I thought it was a cut-and-paste job. The second time it showed up, I decided to do a little more investigating. I eventually tracked it to the camera of Vorrarit Anantsorrarak, a landscape architect for AECOM. As it turns out, that shot of a starry night in New Zealand is almost the least impressive of his work. I’m taken with everything that he’s posted to fb and flickr, but that fact that he was able to capture the ethereal qualities of northern lights on his first encounter with them really impressed me. He’s taken photos that are something beyond perfection. If you don’t believe me, check out his Norway 2012 photos. His Switzerland 2012 collection also features some breathtaking skyscapes. I don’t think you’ll consider any of your time wasted if you look through the rest of his portfolio on flickr and fb after your done with those.

Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO)

10 03 2012

Dome covers at Kjell Henriksen Observatory. Image courtesy of KHO.

If I had known when I left my hometown (latitude: 48.71 N) that I would never see the northern lights again, maybe I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to get out of the valley. Or maybe I would have—I hated the northern lights when I was a kid (seriously), so I might not have thought it would be much of a loss. Now that I know that relatively few people see the northern (or southern) lights and I’ll be lucky to see them again….yeah. Bad decision.

The aurora borealis are on my mind this week because almost every person* I follow on twitter has been obsessing over the ongoing solar storms. Last’s week’s solar flare was a bust for aurora viewing in my part of the world and I don’t think the newest flare is going to produce anything for us, either. The collective wisdom of twitter is saying otherwise, but we live so far south that I’d be afraid of any solar flare/coronal mass ejection that released enough charged particles to light up our night skies.

So, this just makes me wonder: do the scientists at the Kjell Henrikson Observatory (KHO) in Svalbard, Norway, know they have the best job in the world? Yes, they have to keep an eye on the polar bears and it probably isn’t fun dealing with arctic temperatures, but they get a pretty good reward for all that suffering:  not only can they study ‘nightside’ aurora at the observatory, but they can also study ‘dayside’ aurora. I’ve only seen nightside aurora, which appear on the side of Earth opposite the sun. Nightside aurora can be very bright and colorful, and in my experience, very active—they pulse, wave, dance, however you want to describe it. Dayside aurora, on the other hand, haven’t been energized by Earth’s magnetic field, so are allegedly much calmer.**

AGF-345 field work by Njål Gulbrandsen. Photo courtesy KHO.

If you’d like some inspiration for winter observing, visit the KHO homepage. The ‘History’ tab details the development of optical observations of aurora, but I found the entries in the ‘Documents’ section much more interesting, particularly the document about Kjell Henrikson, Polar Bear on a Hot Tin Roof. My architecture students should check out the technical drawing of KHO and the other construction documents (including the construction photos, click on the ‘Image Gallery’ tab). Everybody should watch the dome removal videos: Safe Turtle Mode and Scared Turtle Mode.


*The cats, deer, squirrel and robots I follow on twitter haven’t expressed any interest in the northern lights.

**I’d refer to you the January 1997 Discovery article on dayside aurora, but the online edition doesn’t include the photos, so what’s the point?

Wallpaper Wednesday

11 01 2012
Northern Lights, Trapper Creek, Alaska, 1969

Northern Lights above Trapper Creek, Alaska, April 1969. Photo courtesy of National Geographic/Thomas J. Abercrombie

Today’s image is for my friend, Michelle, who had to drive home last night in whiteout conditions. The weather in Alaska may not be ideal right now, but at least she’s still well positioned to see the northern lights. Only now that I live in southern Indiana do I realize how lucky I was to be able to see them so frequently when I was a kid…

p.s. Check out the date on that photo! [Click on it to download wallpaper]

Observatories and Instruments