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Expedition: Northern Lights


 

A last-minute expedition* in search of the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) took us to Abisko, Sweden, north of the arctic circle for December 13-17. Avid sky-watchers probably notice that the trip coincides with the Geminid meteor shower, and of course, that's not an accident. A favorable moon phase made for the possibility of a two-for-one show -- still dependent, however, on weather, solar activity, and Geminid meteor activity.

* More photos of the trip can be found in a separate online photo album.


Geminid Meteor Shower

The Geminid meteor shower is a fairly reliable annual event, and this year was apparently no exception, but conditions (low clouds reflecting city lights) did not allow us to see as much as we would have liked. Visually, we saw a few dozen meteors, but the camera caught only a few...

     


Aurora

My attempts to photograph the auroral displays were also plagued by clouds, but the aurora did provide some good extended shows when the clouds parted. Because auroral activity is sometimes transient and difficult to judge by eye, at least one camera was left running for about 10 hours each night.

 
       
     

Time-lapse Video

 
The true nature of the aurora can't be appreciated unless it's seen in motion. The videos below are time-lapse sequences shot at 3 frames per minute and played back at 1 frame per second so the motion is 20x actual speed. In person, the aurora usually looks like a curtain swaying in a gentle breeze. But sometimes, changes occur very rapidly (in seconds). Those rapid motions can't be seen in these sequences, which are mostly shot at 15 seconds per exposure.  
 
     
 

The video at right spans most of the duration of the 4-day stay in Abisko, showing clips of time-lapse video along with the POES plot at the same time. Not only does it show the matched ground and satellite plots, but also gives a good feel for the amount of cloud cover we encountered.