Up, up, and aurora!

Up, up, and aurora!

Up, up, and aurora!

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 11 2012 1:01 PM

Up, up, and aurora!

Stéphane Guisard is a photographer who lives in Chile and takes phenomenal shots of the night sky - I've featured his work many times here on the BABlog (see Related Posts at the bottom of this article for much more).

He recently decided to take a long, long trek - he traveled from his home in Chile to the aurora haven of Yellowknife, Canada. Why? Did I mention that Yellowknife is a haven for aurorae?

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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And while there, on September 30, he saw this:

Wow! [Click to enemissionate.]

This shot has three things in it I just love. One is, duh, the aurora itself. Charged particles from the solar wind are caught by the Earth's magnetic field, and are funneled down into the Earth's atmosphere at high latitudes (that is, near the poles). They slam into the air, dumping energy into the atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, which respond by glowing with various colors. The green and red colors are due to oxygen and nitrogen.

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I also love the reflection in the lake. It's not something you think about much in pictures of aurorae, but to me it magnifies the beauty and reality of what I'm seeing.

The third thing is the shape of the aurora. The particles are shot mostly downward into the atmosphere, creating thin sheets and ribbons of light. At the bottom of the picture you're looking more sideways at these sheets, but near the top you're looking up, along the particle trajectories. The aurorae appear to radiate outward from a single spot, which is the direction from which the particles are zipping. It's like looking at lights along a tunnel; they appear to converge at a single spot, the other end of the tunnel.

Stéphane's pictures tend to focus (HAHAHAHA! Get it?) on big sky events - star trails, aurorae, and the like - though he does telescopic imagery as well. His work is wonderful and beautiful and well, well worth your time to take a look.

[Note: Universe Today has a few pictures up from recent aurorae due to a solar storm that nicked the Earth's magnetic field on October 8. They're among the most spectacular I've ever seen!]

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