2022 AURORA EXPEDITION #22 RESULTS

>2022 AURORA EXPEDITION #22 RESULTS
2022 AURORA EXPEDITION #22 RESULTS2022-03-13T16:36:20+00:00

2022 AURORA EXPEDITION #22 RESULTS

 

March 5 at 1:30:40am. Looking south. The photo above is from the most intense aurora outburst I have ever seen. It was taken a few hours before we were set to depart Fairbanks for home.  All of my photos that follow were taken with an 8mm f/3.5 Rokinon lens. What adds to to this intensity is that not only does the snow turn green but so does the low clouds seen to the south. The green glow above the ground lights is not aurora, it is cloud.   The high clouds are pink which shows the illumination from the lights of Fairbanks at the bottom which appear to be stronger at that altitude than the ‘glare’ from the aurora.  Paul Maley photo.

In the 11th year that I have been organizing and leading Northern Lights expeditions, this one by far exceeded any level of activity that I have seen. On a scale of 0-10 we usually rate the experience as 3-5. This time I rated it as an 8-9. Most everyone on the trip really saw what every aurora watcher wants to see—exciting, unpredictable, fantastic moving colored lights appearing, forming, changing shape and disappearing on slow to very fast time scales. Many of my images, regardless of how short the exposure, were smeared due to the speed at which the lights changed position and form.  It was incredible, and there are more adjectives that could be used to describe it!

March 5 at 1:02am.  “The Predator”: Definitely this is the monster from the classic movie.  You don’t have to drink a lot of beer to see stuff in the sky!  Paul Maley photo.

This is a typical aurora viewing prediction where the greenish auroral oval defines what one can expect on any specific day. While we were in Alaska March 1-5 this prediction is for the last night of the trip and predicts a better than 50% chance of seeing aurora. Image courtesy NOAA.

Magnetometer readings on March 4 and 5. Courtesy NOAA.

Above is data showing magnetometer readings from two GOES satellites. It shows that the peak activity we observed on Mar 4 and 5 (both around 1:15am local = 10:15UT) correlate to a ramping up of activity from the graphic data.

Here is a summary showing  representative images for each morning: March 2 and 3 saw weak activity while March 4 and 5 saw extremely strong Lights.

March 2 example 12:50am. Just a little taunt by the aurora gods seen as cloud cover began to dissipate. Nothing more to see after this.  Paul Maley photo with Nikon D5600, f/1.8 lens, ISO1600, 10 second exposure.

March 3 example 1:27am. Before dawn you can see ‘aurora remnants’. Note Cassiopeia in center, Cygnus in upper right part of the image. This morning proved uneventful. Paul Maley photo.

March 4 example 1:40am. It took hours before one stalled faint band started to move and then more bands followed. It was a parade of green with a brief 5 minute outburst of high action! Paul Maley photo.

March 5 example 1:31am (during outburst) A truly awe inspiring, fantasy of color and sub-second shape shifting. You had to see it to believe it. Paul Maley photo.

The above images show that we observed the Northern Lights all 4 nights with portions of the mornings of March 4 and 5 being the most outstanding!

The March 2022 team: front–Dawson the dog. (Left to right) Paul Maley, Fran Korman, Randy Hulet, Lourdes Hermandez, Jane McCutcheon, Raquel Lopez-Milano, Vincent Milano, Mer Pattin, Rick Pattin, Anne Jones, Robyn Morgan, Rodney Rocha, Rob Mauro, Jeff Pohlman.  Kory Eberhardt photo.

Spicy vegetarian chili as a vegetarian selection was a dish that went over well at lunch, especially on a cold winter day. Lynn Palmer photo from a prior trip.

MARCH 4

On this morning we had a 5 minute outburst centered at 1:12am. Here is the screen shot of an aurora cam movie taken during that minute. Lourdes Hernandez photo.

12:45am. “From your lips”.  8mm f/3.5 Nikon 5600. Paul Maley photo.

12:47am. “The comet”. 8mm f/3.5 Nikon 5600. Paul Maley photo.

1:05:14amSony A7S iii and Sony 14mm f1.8 lens ISO3200, 2 sec. Jeff Pohlman photo.

1:08:01am. Looking east. Sony A7S iii and Sony 14mm f1.8 lens. f/1.8, ISO3200, 1 sec. Jeff Pohlman photo. 

1:10:44am. Looking north northeast. TO DEMONSTRATE HOW FAST THINGS CHANGED SEE THIS AND THE NEXT TWO IMAGES. Paul Maley photo.

1:10:56am (12 seconds after the preceding image). Paul Maley photo.

1:11:04am (20 seconds after the first sequence image). Photo of the sky during the same minute as the screen shot of the aurora cam movie.  Paul Maley photo. 

 

In comparison here is the view of the other side of the sky at a similar time.

1:10am Rob Mauro photo. Looking east. Nikon D500 tripod mounted.  ISO 800, 8 sec, f/2.4, 14 mm Rokinon lens (21 mm equivalent)  

1:11am Rob Mauro photo. Looking west.  Nikon D500 tripod mounted.  ISO 800, 4 sec, f/2.4, 14 mm Rokinon lens (21 mm equivalent)  

1:13am.  Looking northwest. Jeff Pohlman photo.

1:47am. “Prehistoric creature”:  This manifestation hovered over the lodge and looked hungry.  Paul Maley photo. 

MARCH 5

SMART PHONE IMAGES

Believe it or not various model Iphones performed very well when intense aurora erupted.

1.35am Iphone 11 photo by Mer Pattin.

 iPhone 13 Pro, handheld, Nightmode.  26mm lens, f/2.5 ISO2000. Anne Jones photo.

 iPhone 13 Pro, handheld, Nightmode. Anne Jones photo.

Iphone 12 image looking west. Raquel and Vince Milano photo.

How the previous image evolved. Note the clouds encroaching from the south to north seen as pink.  Iphone 12. Raquel and Vince Milano photo.

Iphone 12. Raquel and Vince Milano photo.

Iphone 12. Raquel and Vince Milano photo.

DSLR IMAGES

Some auroras became so bright they turned the snow cover from white to green. Watch for them below!

12:58am. Red and green Northern Lights spikes shoot up in the northeast. Notice that the snow color is white as it should be.  All of my photos are arbitrarily selected exposure times. Sometimes the exposures were too short, others over exposed and some just right.  Paul Maley photo.

From this…  1:11:28am. Paul Maley photo.

To this… 1:11:58am. The beautifully carved feature morphed along an east-west line and remained intact for 2 minutes. 8.0 sec exposure. Paul Maley photo.

1:18am. “I want to hold your hand”: Paul Maley photo.

1:48am. “Stalking horse”. Even  more bizarre shapes. 2.0 sec exposure. Paul Maley photo.

1:52am. “God’s glasses”. Ever changing complex features continue unabated. 2.0 sec exposure. Paul Maley photo.

1:53am. “The storm cloud”.  Even though the exposure time was dropped to 1.6 sec at ISO1600 it was not short enough to clearly define the tiny features clearly.  Paul Maley photo. 

1:55am. “The Big S”. Rob Mauro photo. Nikon D500 tripod mounted.  ISO 3200, 1 sec, f/2.4, 14 mm Rokinon lens (21 mm equivalent)  

1:57am. Rob Mauro photo. Nikon D500 tripod mounted.  ISO 3200, 1 sec, f/2.4, 14 mm Rokinon lens (21 mm equivalent)  

2:01am. This photo was toward the last part of the outburst after I had taken over 300 images!  Even with clouds intervening the aurora continued to be strong.  Paul Maley photo.

PROBLEMS WITH LIGHTS  WERE OVERCOME

Our aurora viewing area sees a relatively wide section of sky. However, there are several cabins as well as the lodge in the northern half of the sky.  Here are results of my interference tests.

Lights from adjacent cabin and partial light from one lodge room.  Result: no impact. You can even see a faint aurora band above the horizon. The lodge cabin is seen on the right, the lodge in the lower portion.  Temperatures March 1-5 were relatively mild ranging from 6 to 20 deg F.  Paul Maley photo.

A far more annoying interference issue (visually)  is from the next cabin over where white light was spilling out onto the snow in our direction. Result:oddly there was no impact to aurora photos. The Fairbanks city lights (left) were a greater problem about which we can do nothing.  Paul Maley photo.

Aurora as seen through the cabin window. Yes, it is possible to photograph them through the glass. However, they must be in a confined section of the northwest part of the sky.  Also the view is cut off by eaves above the window so the elevation range is small. There are trees to the right that block the north to northeast sky.  The yellow/red artifact in upper right is a reflection of the heater temperature window, showing the room temperature as 60 deg F, off the glass.  Paul Maley photo.

BLACK BRANT IX ROCKET LAUNCH

We were informed that there would be a rocket launch from nearby Poker Flats. The launch window was to be between 8pm and 3am and each night we went out and nothing happened. Then on March 4 it looked like they were getting serious. The countdown started at 1200 midnight and then stalled at L-15 minutes. During the morning we had a sensational outburst of auroras and I kept checking the Facebook page where updates were being provided. Still the countdown clock failed to move off L-15 minutes. Finally around 230am after everyone had gone inside to sleep and get ready for our 7am departure the clock started. I happened to accidentally make one final check and saw it. I got my tripod and camera in place and took a chance on an ISO of 400 and time exposure of 20 seconds with my 8mm lens and was able to capture the following photo.  Poker Flats is located 23 miles from our lodge and the rocket carried the payload up to an altitude of 100miles.  From that distance I heard no sound.

2:27am. The rocket launch as seen from the lodge. At first behind the trees there was a flash (NOT PHOTOGRAPHED). Then a few seconds after the trail began to appear. This appeared to only be a one stage rocket as no other separations were detected.  Paul Maley photo.

This photo was taken a few seconds after the one above.  There is an extremely faint vertical trail just below the star in the center (see next image) which showed there was no follow-on staging that occurred. Notice all of the smeared aurora is left over “debris” from the bright aurora that was seen earlier.  This is quite normal.  Paul Maley photo.

Cropped image from the above photo showing the faint trail after what appears to be a one stage burnout. Paul Maley photo.

Feb. 22, 2022 launch of similar rocket revealing the staging as two distinctly separate trails. Courtesy NASA/T. Zaperach

The May 5 rocket carried an experiment called LAMP—Loss through Auroral Microburst Pulsations (LAMP) is intended to accomplish the following: Measure pulsating aurora, the highest energy aurora, to see if it plays a role in emptying the radiation belts. Determine the spatial distribution of microbursts with respect to pulsating patches. Determine if microburst “trains” are related to optical signatures of pulsating aurora; if so, determine if microbursts cause modulations of auroral luminosity.  Characterize precipitating e-energy distribution of microbursts to determine if pulsating patches are associated with relativistic e-microbursts.

IMPORTANT: Pulsating aurora are apparently seen often when there are high intensity aurora activity. Mar. 4 and 5 qualify.  I did not recognize this because I was too busy photographing to notice, but what it means is the formation of a patch first appears, then may vanish or change and then reform over the same or similar area. We had a lot of that happening in a short time so unless you were looking for it, you would not have noticed it.  Nobody in the group was using video during the most intense aurora appearances as far as I know or we could double check that data.

Mt. Denali 153 miles from the lodge. Anne Jones photo.

Heavy snow at the lodge. Gaps were cleared out by tractor to rooms 1 and 2 back entrances. This is almost the highest snowfall recorded there. Paul Maley photo.

Unique optical phenomena, possibly a sun pillar, seen behind cloud while returning from the dog races. Paul Maley photo.

A reminder for winter travelers: Don’t dress like this. It was 18 deg F at the time we landed and this photo taken.  Paul Maley photo.

Path down to the aurora viewing area. Also consider this a toboggan run!  Paul Maley photo.

A button is located in the cabin and needs to be pushed when aurora are seen.  Paul Maley photo.

Although we still had to wear masks on the airplane, no such requirement at the lodge!  Paul Maley selfie.

OTHER ACTIVITIES

DOG SLEDDING

March is the perfect time for dog sledding at Paws for Adventure, a short distance from the lodge. Lourdes Hernandez photo.

Lourdes and Randy in the dog sled ready to go.  

REINDEER RANCH

On a walk with Reindeer. Lourdes Hernandez photo.

They have no issue walking in snow. Lourdes Hernandez photo.

TRANS-ALASKA PIPELINE

A section of the pipeline in heavy snow just outside Fairbanks.  Paul Maley photo.

To get an idea of scale. Randy Hulet photo.

THE SKIJORING CHAMPIONSHIP RACES AT NORTH POLE, ALASKA. 

We were lucky to have this race occurring while in Fairbanks. We spent an hour watching numerous competitors cover the 5.7 mile track.

One of the racers in the 6 dog competition heads for the finish. Paul Maley photo.

The dogs are chomping at the bit and have to be controlled at the start line since all the racers are young.  Paul Maley photo.

Some 2022 Kinross Junior contestants are as young as 3 years old. From: http://www.northpolechampionships.com/junior-north-american-championship/

Another finisher. Paul Maley photo.

THE ICE CARVING SCULPTURE EXHIBITION

Each year there is a competition for the best ice sculptures using single blocks of ice (below photo), double blocks, and multi-blocks. The display is open day and night with each entry illuminated by colored lights after sunset. No sculptures are repeated from year to year.

Ice Alaska entrance. Paul Maley photo.

A standing bear. Lourdes Hernandez photo.

An outdoor bathroom with access issues. Paul Maley photo.

Lourdes and Randy playing ice table ping pong. Paul Maley photo.

2 Bears on Tables.  Jeff Pohlman photo.

Yeti sculpture.  Rob Mauro photo.

Toboggan run at Ice Alaska. Paul Maley photo.

Compare the ‘toboggan runway’ at the lodge (above path to the cabin with the toboggan at Ice Alaska in the preceding image.  Paul Maley photo.

Winner of the multi-block ice sculpture competition. Rob Mauro photo.

Another colorful entry. Rob Mauro photo. 

Still another dramatic entry.  Jeff Pohlman photo.