Big Dipper Aurora
Big Dipper Aurora, Prosperous Lake Territorial Park, Northwest Territories, Canada
In September 2013, I flew to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, to fulfill a decade's old desire to photograph the aurora. It was the right time in the solar cycle, near solar maximum, which increases the chance of seeing the aurora; the right time of year, near the fall equinox; and the right place: 62 degrees north latitude, right in the auroral zone, the doughnut-shaped region centered on the north magnetic pole where auroras appear most often. Although many people associate the aurora with the freezing cold of the arctic winter, in truth there is no connection between temperature and the aurora. Yellowknife is a land of lakes, which in late September have not yet frozen solid. That opens up the possibility of photographing the aurora reflected in one of the many lakes and ponds. The only hitch? Frequently overcast skies that I knew could persist for days on end. On the first night, dense clouds shut me down. On the second night, I got a few shots when the clouds parted briefly. On the third night, the clouds parted for a bit longer. And on the fourth night, conditions were perfect: completely clear and dead calm. Vivid auroras filled the sky. A full moon illuminated the landscape. I was shooting at Prosperous Lake Territorial Park, a few miles northeast of Yellowknife along the Ingraham Trail. As word of the fantastic display spread, tour buses and locals began pouring into the parking lot. Someone fired up a boom box and a party atmosphere took hold. As the display peaked, oohs and ahhs erupted from the crowd. In Yellowknife, most auroras appear in an arc of sky stretching from the northwest to the southeast. This aurora appeared almost due north. Can you spot the Big Dipper and Polaris, the North Star?