Saturday, April 5, 2008

Alaska: Aurora Borealis

I often am asked if I have ever seen the aurora, also called the Northern Lights. The answer is definitely YES. In fact, on my most recent trip T and I were out aurora chasing at 1 am. We were lucky enough to see some amazing aurora steaks that danced across the sky. The finale, before we headed sleepily home, was a burst of activity that looked more like fireworks than the standard green wave often seen.
The source of the aurora borealis is the solar wind that is generated from the sun. Sun spots thus generate greater solar winds and this is one way to predict potential aurora activity in the northern hemisphere. This wind is comprised of electrons and protons that travel to earth at high speeds. When the solar winds mix with atmospheric gases, the aurora is visible. For more fun reading, check out Alaska Science Nuggets by Neil Davis.

Predicting the aurora is hard. I check to see if the ski is clear and if it is I make sure to take a look outside before I go to sleep. The aurora often shows up between 10:30pm and 2 am. Some of the best aurora I've seen has been during college, in the fall season, and at 1 am. I am no aurora-watching expert but my friend Ken has it down to a science, as you might be able to guess from his amazing pictures above. Ken's photography focuses mostly on Alaska and is so good that when I get homesick I just click on over to his website for a few images of home. Thanks Ken for sharing with us your most recent aurora pics.

photo credit: Ken Tape of Arctic Circle Photography

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