The Alaskan Sky on Fire

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 10 2014 8:00 AM

The Sky on Fire: “Technicolour Alaska”

aurora
Quantum process writ large, and beautifully. Click to enplanckenate.

Photo by Alexis Coram, used by permission

In February 2014 photographer Alexis Coram went to Alaska with an eye toward—hopefully—catching an aurora.

What she got was magic. And by that, of course, I mean science and beauty. Watch her time-lapse video, “Technicolour Alaska”.

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Wow. Hard to believe that’s her first time-lapse video! Her editing was great, matching the music perfectly (the title of the song? “Out of Darkness,” appropriately enough).

The colors (sorry, colours) are breath-taking. Most aurorae are green, and you can sometimes catch some red and even pink and purple if conditions are right. She caught all that, plus the mesmerizing roiling and curling of the lights as the subatomic particles blasted from the Sun shake the Earth’s magnetic field, sliding down them and slamming into our atmosphere.

That’s what causes the glow; the interaction of the tiniest things in nature. When those particles of the solar wind hit our air they excite the atoms there, causing them to glow. The art and beauty of nature is sometimes found at the intersection of the micro- and macrocosmic, of forces subtle and gross. I’m glad we live somewhere in between.

You can see more of Coram's wonderful photographs on her Smugmug and Facebook pages.

Tip o' the lens cap to Jeff Moreau.

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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