British photographer, James Appleton from Cambridge, has spent the past seven years capturing the volatile landscapes of Iceland – and was rewarded with shots of an erupting volcano and the northern lights. He says: “I became aware of the Fimmvörðuháls volcano through a friend of mine who is an Icelandic vulcanologist. I knew immediately I had to try and get out to see it. On the plane flying over to Iceland I had in my mind’s eye the perfect image I wanted to see, which was exactly this combination of an erupting volcano and the Aurora Borealis. I never dared to hope it might actually happen, but seeing it for real put all the hairs on the back of my neck up. When I saw the photographs come through the camera I was jumping around with excitement.”
After a weekend filled with great auroral activity in Northern Canada and Scandinavia thanks to a strong gust of solar wind coming off the Sun January 19th, the Earth is about to get hit again – by the biggest blast of solar radiation in 7 years. Talk about a one-two punch on the cosmic scale!
Late last night…a giant, long lasting, solar flare erupted off the face of the Sun, sending a giant Coronal Mass Ejection – cloud of plasma and charged particles – squarely towards the Earth. Detected by NASA’s sun-monitoring satellites SOHO and STEREO, the solar blast was determined to be an M9 on the Richter scale of solar flares – just shy of an X- class flare which is ranked as the most powerful. Space weather forecasters at NOAA – who keep watch for any hazardous, incoming solar storms – are expecting the brunt of the CME to slam into Earth’s magnetic field Jan.24 around 9 am EST (2 pm UT) +/- 7 hours…
Already the front of the storm is now being felt as space radiation (energized protons) speeds by Earth, states the Spaceweather.com website. The high influx of charged particles hitting the magnetic field poses a hazard to everything from GPS signals, polar radio communications, power grids and circuit boards on orbiting satellites.
What does this mean for chances of seeing Northern Lights? If the geomagnetic storm becomes moderate to strong then auroras may creep down to southern latitudes like Texas and Georgia – but that’s pretty rare. Exactly how intense and widespread the sky show will be depends on how our planet’s magnetic field is oriented at the time when the storm arrives.
Best time to go outside will be between local midnight and pre-dawn hours. Face the northern sky and look for green or red glows to start near the horizon. Catching auroras with your camera is not hard. All you need to have is a tripod mounted DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, capable of taking exposures of up to 20 seconds with a timer.
You don’t even need it to be a DSLR – just a decent camera that can handle a 20 second exposure. My “big” camera has a wireless remote that will let me open and then close the shutter for any time period I feel like counting off.
But, I don’t expect to see any aurora at this latitude. Yes – I will go outside and look, though.
In America “storm-chasers” are the intrepid types who pursue tornadoes, and sometimes hurricanes. But the Arctic Circle has its aurora chasers – people who speed around in search of the best views of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.
“Last week we saw one that had everything – spiralling, curtains, ribbons, greens and reds, and the whole sky lit up. We were amazed at what was unfolding before us,” says Andy Keen.
Five years ago he left his job running a charity in the UK to move to Ivalo, a remote village in northern Lapland, Finland, latitude 68 degrees – two degrees above the Arctic Circle. “I saw a TV documentary about the Northern Lights. So I went there to have a look. Now I’m absolutely addicted,” he says.
Mr Keen’s company, Aurorahunters, now takes seven tourists a week on hunting trips in the Arctic wilderness to search for the Northern Lights…There are similar companies operating elsewhere in Finland and in neighbouring Norway where the official tourism website describes the aurora as “a tricky lady”. It adds: “You never know when she bothers to turn up. This diva keeps you waiting…”
When a location has been selected, Mr Keen and his group jump into minibuses and head into the wilderness, sometimes taking to sledges pulled by huskies to reach the most remote areas. They often see moose and bear tracks and have ventured as far north as the Arctic Ocean.
All to get the best vantage point to see the aurora borealis, named after the Roman goddess of dawn (Aurora) and the Greek name for the north wind (Boreas)…
RTFA. Details about the causes, predictions. Suggestions about chasing and photographing the elusive beauty of the aurora. All useful.
A network of cameras deployed around the Arctic in support of NASA’s THEMIS mission has made a startling discovery about the Northern Lights. Sometimes, vast curtains of aurora borealis collide, producing spectacular outbursts of light. Movies of the phenomenon were unveiled at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
“Our jaws dropped when we saw the movies for the first time,” said space scientist Larry Lyons of the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), a member of the team that made the discovery. “These outbursts are telling us something very fundamental about the nature of auroras.”
The collisions occur on such a vast scale that isolated observers on Earth — with limited fields of view — had never noticed them before. It took a network of sensitive cameras spread across thousands of miles to get the big picture.
RTFA. Fascinating stuff.