Northern Lights

Maddie and I are planning a future sailing trip up to Maine during the summer of 2017. I proposed the idea of then continuing further North, into the Labrador Sea to see the Northern Lights. I got this idea because we flew to Iceland during November to see the famed Aurora Borealis. 

We were there for three nights, the first two nights were cloudy and with little solar activity reported, so we were unable to see past the low lying cloud cover. Our third night was clear and we did finally see them!

Sorry for the blurry pictures, I didn't have a tripod

They are not as advertised! My father noticed three vertical green bands just north of the Big Dipper. To me, they looked like a whispy cloud, along the lines of a cirrus cloud, not the classic image of an aurora that I believed I would see. I thought I would look up into the sky and see bright neon green ribbons floating overhead, when in fact they looked more like pale green clouds.

The intensity of the light display is ranked into kp values. The values range from 0 to 9, nine being the most intense. The night we saw them, they ranged from 1.67 to 4.33. I would recommend reading up on the kp values. I personally read through this website and kept it handy while out searching for the Northern Lights:

http://www.aurora-service.eu/aurora-school/all-about-the-kp-index/

I took a photograph with a very long exposure time (1 sec. shutter speed, f/ 2.0) to see if it looked like an aurora on the camera to either prove or disprove what we were looking at. Sure enough, it was an aurora.

kp = 2

kp = 2

kp = 4

kp = 4

This gave us the motivation to drive an hour out into the country to find ourselves in a land with no light pollution (other than the full moon). Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we were able to observe the aurora as it moved across the sky, but it moves much slower than they show in the movies and is much dimmer as well. 

I'm glad I got to see them in Iceland rather than braving the Labrador Sea to find these lights. I would have had much more difficulty trying to capture the lights on board a moving vessel.

If you do get the opportunity to enter the arctic circle to view the Northern Lights, I would recommend it, as it is impossible to actually explain what it looks like. But do take a camera to see if that cloud-like object in the distance is a cloud or the Aurora Borealis!

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