Fire, water, and ice

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 12 2012 7:00 AM

Fire, water, and ice

Because you simply cannot have enough incredibly beautiful photographs of aurorae in your life, here's one taken near Tromso, Norway, on March 28, 2012 by photographer Helge Mortensen:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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[Click to coronalmassejectenate, and you should.]

What a shot! Dead center in the picture is the Pleiades, the small cluster of bright stars. The bright object is the Moon, and to the lower right is Venus. If you look carefully, just above the horizon, lies Jupiter. To see it, start at the Pleiades, let your eyes move down and to the right to Venus, then keep going; Jupiter is in line with the clouds, just at the edge of the aurora itself.

I love how that one long swooshing ribbon of aurora cuts across the whole picture. See how it looks broader to the left, then narrower as you follow it to the right? That's almost certainly perspective making it looks smaller. It's probably something like 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the Earth's surface and follows the Earth's curve. The far end of it, near the horizon, is much farther away than the part at the upper left.

And despite all the drama occurring in the sky, my eye keeps getting drawn to the water. In this 10 second exposure, the slow movement of the water softens its appearance. Funny, too: I saw a face in the water and chuckled, then noted that Mortensen got a note from a friend who saw the face as well... or maybe a different one. But the one I see is pretty obvious. Do you see it too?

Mortensen has many more beautiful shots of aurorae on his 500px page, so head over there and soak up the glory of the active sky.

Image credit: Helge Mortensen, used by permission.



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