Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Chasing The Aurora Borealis
The Northern Lights are in a period of increased activity, and now is the ideal time to be out photographing this dance in the sky
They're back! After five years of relative quiet, the Northern Lights—the Aurora Borealis—have been on fire lately. This past year has witnessed a dramatic spike in the solar activity that ignites auroras, and this winter may offer the best viewing, and photographic opportunities, in nearly a decade.
I've had the aurora bug since a memorable trip to Arctic Canada in 2002 when we saw more clouds than we did Northern Lights. But, finally, after five days, the weather broke, revealing an all-night light show—shimmering curtains of light and color danced and skipped overhead, sometimes slow and undulating, while at other times snapping like a celestial whip. The lights were mostly emerald green, occasionally tipped with violet and utterly breathtaking. Beneath a dancing sky, we enjoyed a New Year's Eve I'll never forget; that night has lured me back north every chance I get.
For the past five years or so, however, things have been pretty quiet in the northern skies. Blame the sun; for reasons that baffle scientists, auroras run on an 11-year cycle, corresponding to the activity level on the solar surface. The low ebb of that cycle—the solar minimum—was in 2008, and activity, which is measured by the number of sunspots and accompanying solar flares, has been building since then. The good news is that there already have been dozens of spectacular aurora events since the beginning of 2011, and there are almost certainly more to come.
Needless to say, I'm pumped for the coming season, and I'm gearing up. So if seeing, and photographing, the aurora is on your Bucket List, this may be a great year to go. The following tutorial is designed to provide you with what you need to know, where to go and how to bring back some of the most amazing pictures you've ever taken. Just don't ask me to predict the weather!
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