RESULTS OF OUR 15TH AURORA EXPEDITION FEBRUARY 2018
by Paul D. Maley, NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society
Want to literally be under the Northern Lights? Here they are! Orientation: pointing north from our site east of Fairbanks, Alaska. Notice there is no interference to impact aurora photography from the lights in the nearby structures. The constellation of Auriga is to the upper left, Lyra is to the lower right with Cassiopeia below center. The North Star is above center at the top of the brightest green band. J. Pohlman photo.
The total lunar eclipse of Janury 31 as photographed by Jeff Pohlman at f10.0, ISO 400, 2.5 sec. focal length 400mm = 831mm (35mm equivalent).
Lynn Palmer, Jeannie Pezzoli and Joyce Yamada pose on the morning of January 31 with aurora in the background. The brilliant landscape is caused the Full Moon. You had to wear a face mask for extended periods of time to prevent frostbite. P. Maley photo.
Our 11th Northern Lights viewing expedition (January 30 to February 3, 2018) once again came back with some good images and experiences as we experienced 4 clear but super cold nights with temperatures during the daytime not exceeding 0 degrees F and at night ranging from -16 to -20 deg F. This makes 11 straight successes! Winds were light or non-existent but that did not negate the coldness of the night air. Luckily we had a yurt near us to where those viewing outside could retreat. The only problem is that the oil stove has a very sensitive switch which was inadvertently shut off by people coming in and out of the yurt due to vibration caused by stomping of feet to remove snow and also by closing the yurt door in a strong, loud way. Once this was figured out, we attempted to keep a softer profile.
Our Northern Lights team consisted of Joyce Yamada, Jean Pezzoli, Gene Stansbery, Eileen Stansbery, Jeff Pohlman, Lynn Palmer, Anne Herrington, Mary Raines, and Paul Maley.
We spent January 31 to February 3 monitoring the sky generally from after 11pm until about 5am with individual tour members going outside to stare at the sky and wait for something to happen. There was an added bonus the morning of January 31 when the Full Moon went into a total eclipse during sky, clear sky. What made this even more impressive was that aurora developed (see photo above) in the northern sky as usual, then migrated southward eventually covering the Moon during totality!
JANUARY 31 (morning) AURORA SIGHTINGS
The first image of the night was a 20 second exposure at ISO 1600 with an 8mm lens. Small whiffs of green appeared on the northern horizon heralding interesting things to come. In fact, this was the best of the 4 nights. Even thought Feb 1 was extremely clear, there were NO aurora of consequence seen. P. Maley photo.
The familiar green band forms after some waiting. Exposure time was reduced to only 6 seconds to produce this image. P. Maley photo.
Auroras are not always crisp. After some time, the band morphed into 3 bands. P. Maley photo.
After a spell a strong set of bands appeared in the north and began to move upward. P. Maley photo.
As time progressed the bands took on additional shapes. P. Maley photo.
Here the shape appears as an eel. P. Maley photo.
Then the bands contort into a more intense appearance. P. Maley photo.
A”giant graceful bird” then emerges. P. Maley photo.
We then shifted our attention to the impending total lunar eclipse and as the partial phases began we saw new bands forming in the northwest which seemed to want to move south, perhaps to intercept the Moon. Camera is pointed southwest with the pink glow caused by the city of Fairbanks. The sky background continues to darken as illustrated by the images below. The constellation of Leo is above the Moon with Gemini to the right and Auriga to the right of that. P. Maley photo.
The Moon in a 40% partial eclipse stage on the way to a total eclipse. P. Maley photo with a 1250mm lens.
These bands begin to split into a group of connected bands as the eclipse progresses. P. Maley photo.
Jeff Pohlman developed a creative way to leave a camera operating for many hours in automated mode without having to worry about battery failure or running out and tending to it every so often. His set up is shown below. He was able to use a 3D printer to develop a housing for warmers and the battery as well as knurled knobs for extending tripod legs. These bright orange pieces are inexpensive to design and extremely practical. He uses a camera with a full frame sensor and longer focal length than my 8mm shots which produce more intense images.
In this image you can see more of a curtain with the bands pointing toward the photographer. In the foreground you can see an additional camera setup by the photographer. J. Pohlman image.
Here the westerly band is moving toward the Moon with a secondary band forming to its north. J. Pohlman photo.
Both bands change shape with the right-most band becoming more distinct taking on a zig-zag shape. J. Pohlman photo.
The bands then begin to extend from the western horizon to the eastern horizon with the above image looking overhead. We are now in the total eclipse phase and the sky background is nice dark. Ursa Major is in the top center. P. Maley photo.
The bands in the west slowly expand southward while other aurora features become active. The eclipse is total but one side is more white than red. The extended exposure tends to overexpose the Moon as it did not look this white. P. Maley photo.
The faint aurora bands cover the Moon only superficially with other minor features popping up to the north. P. Maley photo.
Meanwhile toward the eastern horizon, the aurora takes on the shape of a forest fire in progress. P. Maley photo.
Another dramatic easterly image showing a sort of fountaining effect. J. Pohlman photo.
As totality draws to an end the aurora seem to sense the eclipse is over and begin the “fuzzing out phase”. This consists of familiar shapes starting to disappear as the aurora begin to diffuse. P. Maley photo.
The total lunar eclipse against the trees. P. Maley photo.
Iphones are so common now that it is now possible with an app to take good aurora photos provided the Iphone is not hand held. The image below is an example showing that you can indeed hand hold an Iphone and still get both foreground scenery and aurora.
J. Yamada hand held IPhone image.
The image below is what you can get if you securely mount the Iphone to a tripod. Again, without the app you will not get these results!
Tripod mounted Iphone with the special app “Northern Lights Photo Taker”. Photo by Sanjay and Sushma Mohan.
FEBRUARY 1 (morning) AURORA SIGHTINGS
No aurora seen today.
FEBRUARY 2 (morning) AURORA SIGHTINGS
This was the only photo I was able to capture the entire night. P. Maley image.
FEBRUARY 3 (morning) AURORA SIGHTINGS
The following images were taken by Gene and Eileen Stansbery with a Nikon D800, f/4, ISO 1600, 6 second exposures between 205am and 236am.
Northward looking showing initial glows and a rising band on the rising. G. and E. Stansbery photo.
The band matures into an arc. G. and E. Stansbery photo.
The arc continues to evolve. G. and E. Stansbery photo.
The arc evolves further with a secondary band underneath. G. and E. Stansbery photo.
A new active area in the northwest begins to move upward. G. and E. Stansbery photo.
The active area has expanded with time and ‘fuzzed out’. G. and E. Stansbery photo.
The satellite Iridium 10 flares to -6 magnitude on February 1. The Sun was 20 deg below the horizon and elevation was 47, azimuth 121 with the flare center 6km to the east. Gemini and Auriga flank the flare. P. Maley photo.
How cold was it? It was definitely cold enough to produce ice on Joyce Yamada’s eyelashes. J. Yamada photo.
A few of the dogs paying close attention to aurora information at the dog sled location near our lodge. J. Pohlman photo.
The yurt. L. Palmer photo.
It is always a challenge to figure out what clothes to wear given the outdoor conditions: socks, gloves, one or more layers of shirts, hat, heavy coat, etc. are part of the discussion. L. Palmer photo.
Resident dog, Dawson. L. Palmer photo.
A vegetarian dinner entree—stuffed peppers. L. Palmer photo.
Dessert: ice cream and blue berries. L. Palmer photo.
Part of the group at dinner. From right to left: Jeannie, Jeff, Anne, Eileen (left side): Gene, Mary, Joyce and Lynn with Debbie Eberhardt standing far left. P. Maley photo.
YUKON QUEST SLED DOG RACE
Excitement begins with the dogs pulling the sleds who cannot wait to start! P. Maley photo.
In 1983, four mushers sat at a table in the Bull’s Eye Saloon in Fairbanks, Alaska. The conversation turned to a discussion about a new sled dog race and “what-ifs”.
- What if the race followed a historical trail?
- What if it were an international sled dog race?
- What if the race went a little longer?
- What if it even went up the Yukon River?
As early as 1976, a Fairbanks to Whitehorse sled dog race had been talked about. But it wasn’t until this conversation between Roger Williams, Leroy Shank, Ron Rosser and William “Willy” Lipps that the Yukon Quest became more than an idea. The mushers named the race the “Yukon Quest” to commemorate the Yukon River, which was the historical highway of the north. The trail would trace the routes that the prospectors followed to reach the Klondike during the 1898 Gold Rush and from there to the Alaskan interior for subsequent gold rushes in the early years of the 1900s.
The first Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race tested both race logistics and the talents of all involved. Twenty-six teams left Fairbanks in 1984. During the next 16 days, 20 teams arrived in Whitehorse. Six teams were forced to drop out along the way. In 2018 the race had expanded to two separate races, one that was 1,000 miles long and the other 300 miles long with 26 mushers this year for the first and 16 for the second. Both men and women control dog teams of 12 to 14 dogs taking days to complete. Not all entrants finish the race.
A team enters the staging area. P. Maley photo.
A musher and her team takes off from the Yukon Quest 300 start line. P. Maley photo.