The Northern Lights

imageWhen 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.

WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS ARTIC CIRCLE CRAZY AURORA BOREALIS CARTOON EXPLANATION INTERESTING FACTS LEGENDS 1 (5)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.

WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS ARTIC CIRCLE CRAZY AURORA BOREALIS CARTOON EXPLANATION INTERESTING FACTS LEGENDS 1 (6)A couple of days later on the cloudy day with a strong Aurora forecast we looked outside late at night and saw light coming from the north behind a couple of the thinner clouds.

WHAT ARE NORTHERN LIGHTS ARTIC CIRCLE CRAZY AURORA BOREALIS CARTOON EXPLANATION INTERESTING FACTS LEGENDS 1 (7)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.

haines Aurora 16That evening we headed back out to the same spot by the water. And this time we truly saw the Northern Lights.

haines Aurora 11The 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.

haines Aurora 10The 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.

haines Aurora 14haines Aurora 12That night we saw rays of light shooting across the sky, some very subtle wisps unfolding, others more dramatic and bright.

There was a lot of movement in the colors across the sky.

haines Aurora 15Sometimes one particular section of the Aurora would begin to glow and intensify as it moved across the sky.haines Aurora 13

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.

haines Aurora 1haines Aurora 4Auroras 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.

haines Aurora 5haines Aurora 2After several cycles, the Northern Lights seemed to be fading and it was past 2 a.m. so we headed back to our campground. We heard later from a neighbor that she saw a pretty intense Aurora at 3 a.m.

haines Aurora 17

The Haines Harbor with Northern Lights and the Big Dipper

haines Aurora 3Seeing the Northern Lights has been one of my dreams, and I could hardly believe that we had a chance to see them. But now we were even more determined to see them again.

~ Brenda



18 thoughts on “The Northern Lights

    • Hi Ingrid … the camera settings were hit and miss and I sure wish I had a faster wide angle lens. I shot most of these with my 17-40 zoom with the aperture set wide open to f4. I played with ISO between 1000 and 1600. ISO 1250 seemed to work nicely. For shutter speed Using “bulb” and a manual cable release I counted off the seconds. Most exposures were between 15 and 30 seconds. If the aurora was brighter I released the shutter sooner, if dimmer I’d go a bit longer. If you leave it open too long, the movement of the aurora just becomes a big blur. Pure guesswork. But fun and I thought the images turned out not bad for a newbie. I sure would love more chances to practice 🙂 Hope you are well! Hi to AL.

  1. How exciting! So glad you were able to witness the Northern Lights. I just can’t imagine what the sky must look like. Thanks for all the gorgeous photos, Hector! Love the comic explanation:)

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