Mag­i­cal show is well worth the wait

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

HARD on the heels of my piece con­cern­ing the to­tal eclipse of the sun which can only be seen from the Faroe Is­lands and Sval­bard in March, I have re­ceived a num­ber of re­quests for in­for­ma­tion about the Aurora Bo­re­alis, as read­ers look to tick this amaz­ing nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non from their bucket-list in 2015.

The North­ern Lights (Aurora Bo­re­alis) ap­pear when charged par­ti­cles from the Sun hit the Earth’s at­mos­phere.

Charged par­ti­cles are formed in sunspots, which oc­ca­sion­ally throw out so­lar flares (Coro­nal Mass Ejec­tions CME). If those CME’s are Earth-di­rected, they can cause a colour­ful and vivid aurora dis­play in the sky. This mag­i­cal show can be seen mostly in po­lar ar­eas (Aurora Bo­re­alis in the north and Aurora Aus­tralis in the south).

The strength of the so­lar ac­tiv­ity goes in cy­cles of roughly 11 years. The best time to view and pho­to­graph North­ern Lights is close to so­lar max­i­mum. Dur­ing the so­lar max­i­mum the num­ber of sunspots in the Sun is sig­nif­i­cantly higher than usual. The com­ing weeks will see the sec­ond peak of the cur­rent so­lar max­i­mum, which will give good op­por­tu­ni­ties for pho­tograph­ing and view­ing the North­ern Lights.

Hav­ing said that, the Lights are very dif­fi­cult to pre­dict, for ex­am­ple I have re­turned empty-handed from La­p­land only to see them from the hills above In­ver­ness the same week.

If a CME oc­curs in the Sun, the first ques­tion is if it was Earth-di­rected or not. If it was, then it usu­ally takes 24-72 hours for the so­lar wind stream to reach Earth.

The strength of the ge­o­mag­netic ac­tiv­ity and vis­i­bil­ity of the North­ern Lights varies a lot. It can be mea­sured by us­ing a Kp-in­dex, which es­ti­mates on which lat­i­tudes the au­ro­ras are vis­i­ble.

Kp-in­dex scale is 1-10. For ex­am­ple, if you are trav­el­ling north of the Arc­tic Cir­cle, an es­ti­mated Kp-in­dex of three or more, it is likely there will be a ‘show’. If Kp-in­dex reaches five or more, there is a ge­o­mag­netic storm in progress. Th­ese storms have their own scale: a Kp five ge­o­mag­netic ac­tiv­ity is also called a G1 ge­o­mag­netic storm. Check out this site for pre­dic­tions: www.swpc.­ucts/30minute-aurora-fore­cast.

Weather nat­u­rally de­ter­mines where au­ro­ras are vis­i­ble. On cloudy evenings/nights there isn’t much you can do about it.

There­fore check­ing the weather forecasts sev­eral times a day im­proves your chances. If the weather looks cloudy, pre­pare to drive in search for clear skies. Luck­ily dur­ing mid-win­ter (Jan­uaryFe­bru­ary) in Fin­land there is of­ten high-pres­sure weather with clear skies.

Don’t get de­pressed be­cause of the cloudy weather. If there is even a short clear pe­riod, au­ro­ras can be seen. On a partly-cloudy weather pho­tograph­ing them is also pos­si­ble.

It is es­sen­tial to dress up warmly for aurora hunt­ing. You might have to wait for hours for the event to be­gin.

My friend Jari Pel­tomaki of www.finna­ rec­om­mends the fol­low­ing cam­era gear, he also or­gan­ises North­ern Lights pho­to­graphic trips in the High Arc­tic. (Worth a look for his amaz­ing pic­tures).

l One or two full-frame DSLR cam­era bod­ies.

l Two lenses: a wide-an­gle lens (12-24 mm or sim­i­lar).

l A fish­eye or a lens be­low 35mm.

l A sturdy tri­pod that is easy to han­dle in the dark. Be care­ful with car­bon­fi­bre tripods as they very eas­ily break in cold con­di­tions.

l A ball-head (make sure that it can be tilted straight up 90 de­grees to the sky above for pos­si­ble aurora corona).

l A lens wipe for re­mov­ing frost or mois­ture from the lens.

l Mul­ti­ple fully-charged spare bat­ter­ies for the cam­era (must be kept in warm pock­ets).

l Ad­di­tional gear: a head torch, snow shoes when mov­ing out­side tracks, a flask with hot drinks.

Pho­tograph­ing au­ro­ras cam­era set­tings: Al­ways use RAW-mode to pre­serve all de­tails in your aurora images. White bal­ance should be set as ‘auto’.

Know­ing your cam­era is very im­por­tant so you can ad­just cam­era set­tings with­out hav­ing to use your head torch all the time.

Ev­ery now and then it is worth check­ing your set­tings – just to make sure you haven’t pressed the wrong but­tons in the dark.

And don’t for­get, if you get any pic­tures of the lights, please share them with the rest of us.

The North­ern Lights

The Laugh­ing Bad­ger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.