Stunning Arctic Aurora Time Lapse

The entire universe in blog form
July 2 2013 10:30 AM

Time Lapse: Arctic Lightscapes

Arctic Lightscapes
A frame from the video Arctic Lightscapes showing dramatic sheets of green aurorae.

Photo by Anneliese Possberg, from the video

The Sun has been getting a bit more active lately, blowing out the odd solar storm or two. These waves of subatomic particles march across interplanetary space, and when they hit the Earth, they spark geomagnetic storms. Those in turn can result in displays of the northern and southern lights, or the aurora (borealis for the north, and australis for the south).

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!  

Photographer Anneliese Possberg traveled to Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Finland to capture the shows, and she created this stunning time-lapse video of them:

Advertisement

I love how it starts, with the Sun making its long, slow, shallow dive to the horizon. That’s a clear indication she was at a high latitude; at mid-latitudes like the United States and most of Europe, the angle the Sun makes toward the horizon is much steeper.

The odd motion of the water in the first few seconds of the video caught my attention as well. It wasn’t as jerky as I was expecting. Then I noticed some of the auroral streamers looked odd as well, and realized what was going on: Possberg was morphing from frame to frame, interpolating the motion between the shots. I described this in a post about a video from the Mars Curiosity rover; basically it’s just using a bit of math to smooth out the motion a bit. If an object appears in one part of a frame then is in a different place in the next frame, you can determine where it was at the moment halfway (or any fraction) between the two frames. It’s a perfectly fine thing to do, and it adds yet another unearthly level to the already surreal video.

As you watch, you’ll see most of the aurorae are green, which is normal. But there are also other colors that appear: purple, pink, even blue. All of these come from molecules and atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the upper atmosphere, emitting light as they heal from their wounds after being slammed by subatomic particles from the Sun.

National Geographic has a story on how Possberg made this video, too, and it's pretty interesting. She had the flu when she shot some of the video! That takes real dedication; it's not like she was shooting these pictures in her back yard.

Right now I'm in Oregon for our Science Getaways trip. I’m really hoping the Sun gets some cosmic indigestion while we’re up there; those latitudes would be favored during a good aurora. I’ve never seen one myself, and given all these photos and videos I post, I think it’s about time I got my due.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 8:15 AM Ted Cruz Will Not Join a Protest of "The Death of Klinghoffer" After All
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 7:30 AM Ring Around the Rainbow
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.