Another Night of Magic
Last night was truly a night of magic. It like the previous night stimulated all of the senses.
Day two of the current solar storm was spectacular.
Like the previous night all the ducks so to speak were lining up in a row. Spaceweather.com was predicting a storm with a rating of 6 which is really high. Aurorawatch.ca by 9:00 p.m. was showing only a 30% chance of seeing aurora which seemed very low given the conditions and cleardarksky.com was showing clear skies for my are until 3:00 a.m.
On the previous night I had noticed that a lack of any kind of a moon above the horizon not only made the northern lights appear brighter but the landscape below darker. Much, much darker.
Rather than photographing any kind of buildings in the dark without any illumination it was an easy decision to photograph a lake where the overhead lights would be reflected in the water. Nearby where I live is Elk Island National Park. It is about 30 minutes east of Edmonton. The national park is popular with astronomy hobbyists because of the lack of nearby commercial or residential dwellings. Simply put the sky is darker there.
The centre piece of the park is Astotin Lake. That is where I was headed.
At 10:00 p.m. aurorawatch.ca was still showing a low percentage but I decided to get out anyways and hope that the lights would appear. Five minutes later and I was at towns edge and could see a faint band of green stretching from horizon to horizon. A good sign. A great sign. If you can see the aurora in the city they have to be bright.
Fifteen minutes out of town and half way to Elk Island and the lights were so bright that I almost pulled over to photograph them. Instead I persevered hoping that they would keep up until I got to the lake.
Soon I was pulling into the lake parking lot turning my headlights off as I approached it only to see the reflection of many vehicles from my driving lights as I drove close to the lake. Ah, lots of photographers just like myself I thought. Opening my drivers side door turned on the interior light which seemed to illuminate the lake. I quickly got my hear, donned my headlamp and walked towards the waters edge about 60 meters away.
Near the lake I could see the embers of a fire in a pit. Around it were the silhouettes of people laughing, singing and having a good time. Hmm, I thought what about the aurora? I walked past them and onto the beach. No photographers. I had passed about eight cars stopped at the side of the road in the park. They were near ponds hoping for reflections into the ponds I guess but there were no photographers here that I could see.
I turned on my headlamp, attached the camera to tripod and pointed towards the lake which was roughly in a north westerly direction. In the far distance I could see a faint glow from the lights of Edmonton to the southwest and Fort Saskatchewan to the west.
Then the show started. At first it was very faint but because of the reflecting water they appeared to light up the lake. Out of the dark a young lady with a camera approached, there were other photogs here I thought. Very politely she asked if it would interfere with my shooting if she walked onto the pier. Of course not. It would make a nice silhouette I thought to myself. She walked on. Took a few photos and returned to where she had come from.
The air was cool and I was glad that I had brought a winter jacket again. And it was breezy. I could smell the smoke from the fire behind me and the singing got louder. It seemed like one happy family was at the lake. So special.
Then it happened. First a few spikes of aurora lit up the sky against the green faded wash. Brighter and brighter it got. Soon the singing behind me stopped and I could hear people commenting on the aurora. Wow! They were as bright as I had seen in years and they were active. Swirling and twisting and making their way from east to west across the sky. It was like a giant fluid monster of light was twisting and turning in the night making its way across the earth.
I kept pushing the camera shutter. Pointing the camera in every which direction. There were lights everywhere but to the south. I put on a fisheye to get more of the sky and snapped a lot.
As the lights danced another young woman parked herself a few meters next to me and I couldn’t help but comment on the lights. The lady said that she was from Australia and had NEVER before seen the northern lights. What a night to see them! She snapped a few photos or tried to as she explained that she did not have a tripod and returned to the fire pit.
Then as quickly as the show started it slowed down to a crawl so I waited. I stood on the sandy and wet beach. I know that it was wet because my knees and pants were wet from kneeling near the camera and tripod. Half an hour passed and only a faint green glow remained so I decided to head west back home. It couldn’t get much better than what I had seen I figured.
As I drove out of the park I passed almost a dozen other vehicles at the side of the road. I could see groups of photographers huddled alongside ponds.
During the short drive home I thought I saw the beginnings of a flare up but it was short lived. Then, five minutes out of Edmonton and the show started up again. The whole night sky woke up but the thought of laying my head on a pillow was too strong. I forced myself not to look back in the rear view mirror. I knew that it wouldn’t take much to convince me to turn around.
It was another night of magic.