When we planned our trip to Alaska, I never once thought about seeing the Northern Lights. The Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, were something that I believed only happened in the dead of winter.
Then, when we stopped in Talkeetna and visited the Aurora Dora gallery, Dora, the photographer, told us that she had seen the Aurora Borealis as early as August 22nd. Dora gave Hector the name of an application that provides forecasts about the Aurora, based on NASA spacecraft observations of the sun. Hector began to monitor the app sometime in August.
Hector discovered that there were a couple of days with strong Aurora forecasts during the time we planned to be in Haines. We checked the weather and found that one of those days also had a clear weather forecast.
That evening we in fact “saw” the Aurora for the first time ever, but it was just a faint colored light moving behind the thinnest clouds. There was one fleeting moment when an intense moving light pierced the clouds. It was not a photographable event but it was pretty amazing.
The following evening was the next strong Aurora forecast and to our delight, the weather was only partly cloudy that day.
The Aurora is caused by the interaction of the earth’s magnetic field with invisible charged particles of radiation, emitted by the sun. As these particles approach earth on the cosmic wind, they are drawn to the magnetic poles. Once in earth’s upper atmosphere, they collide with and energize gas atoms, causing them to emit light.
The Aurora Borealis appears around the North Pole and the Aurora Australis appears around the South Pole. Although they exist day and night, they are not visible to the human eye during daylight and twilight.
There was a lot of movement in the colors across the sky.
The more intensely bright lights were to our north, but there were also lights above us, like colored rain falling and freezing in mid-air.
Auroras appear in 30-minute cycles and we saw several cycles. The colors were not as vivid as we knew they could be, because it was just a couple of days past the full moon. Even though the moon was behind a mountain and only some of its light shone through, it still dimmed the Aurora.