2023 AURORA EXPEDITION #24 RESULTS
by Paul D. Maley
This web page provides results of our March 22-26 adventure in Alaska to see the Northern Lights. It continued our 100% success rate for all of our aurora viewing trips in spite of cloud cover forecasts in the days prior which predicted every night would be cloudy. In the end it supported the unreliability of advance weather forecasting in Alaska which has been the hallmark each time we ventured there. Temperatures experienced this time ranged from the upper 20’s to just above 0 degrees F.
On a side trip to the Arctic Circle (north of Fairbanks), Kathy Beck took this tripod mounted Iphone 14 Pro image on March 23 at 11:13pm. This was approximately 30 minutes after we encountered the same storm in Fairbanks. ISO6400, f/2.2 from the phone metadata. Note the strong pink and yellow colors which we have only rarely ever seen there.
Auroras blazed over our lodge as the storm swept over our location. Paul Maley photo. Nikon D5600, f/3.8, ISO1600, exposure time less than 1.0 sec.
March 23 from 10:27 to 10:34pm Alaska time. A major geomagnetic storm (G4 level) hits our area and the Northern Lights bloomed like never before. This is the second highest rating of a disturbance in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by highly charged particles streaming in from the solar wind and it is possible for it to impact power grids and voltage control issues. It was the biggest such storm in the last 6 years; it was so strong that it was seen/photographed from 32 states. The main part of this for us lasted a full 7 minutes at our Fairbanks location although aurora were seen much of the night. The bright green color is what might one normally would see, but the pink and white are indicative of storm conditions. The above images are only two of hundreds of photos taken during our trip.
The atmosphere consists mainly of nitrogen and oxygen, which emit the characteristic colors of their respective line spectra. Atomic oxygen is responsible for the two main colors of green, greenish yellow and red. Nitrogen causes blue and deep red hues. The strong, green light originates at altitudes of 120 to 180 km. Red Northern Lights occur at even higher altitudes, while blue and violet occur mostly below 120 km. When the sun is “stormy,” red colors occur at altitudes of 90 to 100 km.
Entirely red Northern Lights may sometimes be seen, particularly at low latitudes. In earlier times, people often mistook this red light for fire on the horizon. However, on March 24 observers as far south as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida photographed the north horizon and captured red light. The photo above shows that. The down side is that there were no visual sightings. The faint blur color was seen in photos only as reported.
Night time temperatures were as low as +6 degrees.
Last year we had amazing views of the aurora during our March trip and I thought they could not be topped. But this March we were treated to a literally jaw dropping 7 minutes of nonstop brilliant flowing Lights. On a scale of 0-10 we usually rate the experience as 3-5. This time I rated it as a 10. Most everyone on the trip really saw what every aurora watcher wants to see—exciting, unpredictable, fantastic moving colored lights appearing, forming, changing shape and disappearing on slow to very fast time scales. The following are snippets of the experience.
WHY NOW THROUGH 2025 IS LIKELY THE BEST TIME TO SEE AURORA!
Trend data showing increasing number of sunspots on the Sun which corresponds to a greater chance of aurora experiences as we approach the predicted timeframe of Solar Maximum in 2025.
This is a typical aurora viewing prediction where the greenish auroral oval defines what one can expect on any specific night–an average likelihood of 20-40% changce of seeing the Lights. Image courtesy NOAA.
Our trip went from March 22-26 but during the day on March 24 we saw this graphic predicting a big Northern Lights storm. Cracks opened in the Earth’s magnetic field allowing charged particles from the solar wind to flow into the polar regions.
Storm prediction as this huge red arc moving from Europe toward North America predicts better than 90% chance of the Lights! Image courtesy NOAA. The storm moved clockwise and reached Alaska just after sunset when, for only the second time in 11 years I was able to see Northern Lights immediately following sunset.
Here is a summary showing representative images for each night from March 22-25, 2023 and a few from the morning before when several arrived before the rest of the group of 14.
On March 17 another batch of 52 Starlink satellites were launched into space on the Starlink 2-8 rocket mission. I was able to photograph them on the mornings of March 25 and 26 as they were closely grouped together on morning orbits over Alaska after 4:00am local time.
The 52 satellites popped out of the Earth’s shadow in the northeast and moved down toward the tree line above the lodge with aurora in the background at 404am March 25 in this time exposure.
The last morning of our time in Alaska I shot the above image of 34 satellites each identified by a brightening in this very long trail. Each arrow points to a different object. Because it had been 9 days since the rocket launch all of the satellites had begun to spread out. Visually all 52 were seen separately and all were about magnitude +3.5. Paul Maley photo with a Nikon D5600, f/3.5 lens, ISO1600.
AURORA AND PEOPLE PHOTOS
Northern Lights most always appear in the north part of the sky since our location is south of the aurora oval. But during this storm sightings began in the southeast as a bright glow at first, then spreading northwest and eventually enveloping the whole sky. This directional motion was extraordinarily unusual. There was enough time to compose photos with participants standing in front of auroras which does not always happen.
Chris and Becky
LaShawn with crescent Moon, Venus and faint aurora in background. Kory Eberhardt image.
Jim and Mary with a stray polar orbiting satellite passing overhead.
Mari, Lynn, Kathy, Chris, Becky, Rebecca
LINKS TO AURORA PHOTOS AND PEOPLE SHOTS WITH AURORA
The following link contains stills and two videos (last two files) that can be downloaded at this link:
All were taken by Kory Eberhardt. The videos are important to look at; they faithfully show the real time drama that could be seen by the naked eye–truly a fantastic once in a Blue Moon sight!
Our March group consisted of Jim and Mary Fenwick, Adam and Sheena Bensman, Kathy Beck, LaShawn Wilson, Lorin Moentenich and Avis Newell, Rebecca Gerhardt and Maridith Ramsey, Chris and Becky Schwab, Lynn Palmer and Paul Maley.
Chris, Becky, Jim, Mary, Sheena and Adam (front), Lorin, Avis, LaShawn, Lynn and Paul
Rebecca, Maridith, Kathy
NORTHERN LIGHTS IMAGES
MARCH 22/23 AURORA PHOTOS
iPhone 14 photo by Jim Fenwick taken from Chena Lake Recreation Area.
MARCH 23/24 AURORA PHOTOS: NIGHT OF THE BIG G4 STORM
The first indication that something big really might happen was this first image below that I shot immediately after sunset when twilight was disappearing and stars were popping out. We NEVER see aurora this early and yet small strands of Northern Lights began to appear in different parts of the sky. Normally they will begin low in the northern sky hours after darkness has set in; but not this time.
Faint auroras spotted after sunset–something I have never seen since I started leading tours here in 2012. Paul Maley photo.
Three impressive images above were taken by Sheena Bensman with a Samsung SM-S908U Pro f/1.8, 2 seconds, 23mm lens, ISO1600.
EVOLUTION OF THE STORM FROM START TO FINISH
10:27pm The first indication that the storm was approaching Fairbanks when we saw this bright glow in the southeast. Notice the black upper right and lower left corner cutouts. These were caused by my camera when the lens was inadvertently attached incorrectly and remained stuck during the entire trip. The lens was freed after the end of our travel but these cutouts appear on all of my aurora photos. Seven images begin here from Paul Maley.
10:29pm Curtains of blue, pink and green form. Motion is apparent from southeast to north-northwest.
10:30pm Nikon D5600, 4 sec, ISO1600, 8mm f/3.5. .
10:31pm Image 2 of 4. Exposure 3 sec.
10:32pm Image 3 of 4. Exposure 3 sec.
19:33pm Image 4 of 4. Exposure 2.5 sec.
10:34pm ending of storm toward the northern horizon.
Half an hour later two team members used a Nikon DSLR and smart phones to shoot the Lights. Unlike in previous years the newer model smart phones were more than up to the task. The following 6 images are excellent examples of how the Iphone 14 Pro responds to aurora.
Images above were taken by Rebecca Gerhardt with an Iphone 14 Pro hand-held.
Kathy Beck photo with an Iphone 14 Pro.
There were instances where portions of the snow in the foreground were turned light green by the Northern Lights. Kathy Beck photo with an Iphone 14 Pro.
Kathy Beck photo with an Iphone 14 Pro.
MARCH 24/25 AURORA PHOTOS
1:30am March 25 – Snow is definitely green from the aurora above. Kathy Beck photo with Nikon D750 with a 14-24mm 2.8 lens , ISO3200.
1:36am – Another Kathy Beck image showing how having too bright a RED flashlight or headlamp can illuminate the snow negatively. However, notice how sharp the aurora is. Nikon, ISO4000, f2.8.
MARCH 25/26 AURORA PHOTOS
It was mostly clear this night especially in the morning but only faint auroras were seen and none merited publication.
FLYING IN TO FAIRBANKS
Mount Rainier on the approach to Seattle from where all Alaska Airlines flights to Fairbanks originate. Lynn Palmer photo.
Mountains with animal shapes; the next photo is embedded in this one. Lynn Palmer photo.
A mountain ridge resembling a mouse. Lynn Palmer photo.
A carved head inside the ice museum at Chena Lodge. LaShawn Wilson photo.
Exhibit inside the ice museum. LaShawn Wilson photo.
Another carved exhibit in the ice museum. LaShawn Wilson photo.
The hot spring at Chena which will be included as a feature of our 2024 tours. LaShawn Wilson photo.
Dog sledding is one of the more popular activities in March. Paws for Adventure is located on the lodge property and many participants go on rides with teams of eager puppies.
Adam and Sheena and their dog team.
TRANS-ALASKA PIPELINE AND FAIRBANKS TOUR
A section of the trans-Alaska pipleline. LaShawn Wilson photo……………………………………………………………………………………………..A people perspective. Adam Bensman photo.
Downtown Fairbanks. Jim Fenwick photo.
We experienced snow on two days but at times the clouds were thin enough that we could see the Sun as well as the optical phenomenon in the following image.
Early one morning I was able to spot phenomena created by ice crystals that were clearly visible in cloud. Sun dogs appearing on either side of the Sun as well as what is called a tangent arc–a very thin curved reflection located directly above the Sun. See the reference photo below. Paul Maley photo.
A photo taken some years ago showing a 22 degree circular halo featuring companion sun dogs with a tangent arc above. Courtesy Maria Escobar WHAS11.
THE ICE CARVING SCULPTURE EXHIBITION
Each year there is a competition for the best ice sculptures using single blocks of ice (below photo), double blocks, and multi-blocks. The display is open day and night with each entry illuminated by colored lights after sunset. No sculptures are repeated from year to year.
Ice rabbit. Jim Fenwick photo.
A giant lizard resembling Godzilla. Lynn Palmer photo.
Giant ice eyeball. Lynn Palmer photo.
Ice bucket toss. Lynn Palmer photo.