RESULTS FROM THE 2013 MARCH AURORA EXPEDITION TO ALASKA

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Imagine seeing this sight along the highway! Photo by L. Palmer.

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Ring of Fire Expeditions returned to Alaska in March 2013 after experiencing our first aurora tour 6 months earlier. Perhaps the above sign is symptomatic of new approaches that Alaskans are considering in order to conserve energy.  Could the mysterious switch to turn off the aurora be that one below?

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This is what we came to see.  A 15 second exposure gives the viewer an idea of the naked eye wonder of an evening auroral outburst.  (14-24mm f2.8 lens at 14mm & f2.8.  ISO 1600). Photo by B. Braswell.

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The ice museum in downtown Fairbanks. P.Maley photo.

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Good eats in Fairbanks! P.Maley photo.

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You can tell by the road signs that you are not in Texas. P.Maley photo.

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Using a bathroom was important along the Arctic Circle trek. The sign gives you a perspective on the challenges of using it in winter. L. Strike photo.

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Alaska, where men are men, women are women, and dogs  are principal players in the state’s economy, and they let you know it. A. Sain image.

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Some days its so cold going into an ice cream store would warm you up.  During our stay it dropped as low as -11 deg F. P.Maley photo.

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Signs can be misleading. No, we were not that close to the real North Pole, just the town by the same name. P.Maley photo.

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It was March and snow was everywhere, including in preferential places in the trees. P.Maley photo.

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The Alaska pipeline with portions above ground to avoid negative effects of tundra exposure, and portions below ground that are not visible here. B.Braswell photo.

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 This was not the Iditarod but championship dog race qualifying heats.  Here you can see a three dog skijorg race in Fairbanks. Skijoring is a winter sport where a person on skis is pulled by a horse, a dog (or dogs) or a motor vehicle.   P. Maley photo.

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A two dog skijorg race. B.Braswell photo.

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Finally, a one dog race. P.Maley photo.

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The group poses for a photo at the Arctic Circle location 156 miles north of Fairbanks.  Left to right: Paul Maley, Lynn Palmer, Leslie Strike, Jeff Burrell, Mia Lindholm, Byron Braswell, Sharon Braswell, Maria Bacay, Anil Sain, Bev Neismith,Bernard Bacay, Irene Talbot.  B.Braswell photo.

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Inside a large yurt. Photo by B.Braswell.

The yurt at the aurora viewing site operated by Chena Lodge was a place to wait for the clouds to clear. Unfortunately, comfort was not a top convenience with hard bottom, hard back chairs.

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Aurora abort at Chena Lodge. B.Braswell photo.

Then there was the trip to Chena Lodge. This night we took a risk to go up to their aurora viewing point.  Not only was it cloudy but we could not go back down the mountain due to their rigid policy of not permitting a portion of their viewers to return. Either everybody goes back or nobody goes.  At 2am following a 4-hour wait, we were finally allowed to leave. This photo captures the blowing snow conditions that existed while we waited to leave.  The lodge uses tracked vehicles to go up and down the mountain when there is snow. We will never return there again for any sort of aurora viewing.

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The first sign of auroras on night #1. Photo by P. Maley (14mm f/2.8, ASA 1600, 25 seconds)

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Aurora through cloud on night #1. L. Palmer photo with 11mm f/2.8 lens, 25 second exposure (all exposures that follow were taken with the same lens, exposure).

Usually when there is not major auroral activity in progress or predicted, the night starts out with a low level indicator of what is to come.  Above is the green band that is demonstrative of low level displays.  The band is visually greenish in nature and can cover part of the sky as a curved band structure.

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The green band moves higher and begins to transform. L. Palmer photo.

Evolution of aurora changes over time. In the matter of tens of minutes or more the green arc can develop a more intense patch, sometimes at the horizon or in other parts of the arc. In the above photo, beams of light begin to appear. The digital camera reacts showing green, yellow or red. The building in the foreground also causes a small lens flare in the above image–typical of what might happen if there are any lights in a photo.

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Foreground images really help contrast the aurora. Photo by L. Strike (ISO 3200, 30 seconds, Canon T1i and Sigma 10mm lens)

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Clouds begin to swallow the sky as the aurora heats up. L. Palmer photo.

The effect of cloud on the aurora is interesting. Through it may appear to blur the overall image clouds can emphasize the drama of how the auroral intensity expands and moves.  This night’s viewing spot attracts tourists in cars and buses which does not help when trying to conduct photography.

 

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Curtains and arcs (at least four of them). L. Palmer photo.

Setting up for a good aurora shot can result in views of curtains and in the foreground other aurora photographers. Notice the glows from their digital camera view screens. If the shutter is held open it is almost guaranteed someone will move and cause a ground blur.

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An evolution of arcs into a bright beam. Notice the constellation of Taurus (left) and the Pleiades. L.Palmer photo.

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Auroral activity picks up with a number of bands visible. B.Braswell photo.

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A dramatic auroral band forms. L.Palmer photo.

When a tripod is put down in snow, sometimes it sinks. In the photo above and below, the result of that sink does not interfere with the overall composition of the auroral images.

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An intense swirl forms along this same arc. L. Palmer photo.

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The above images evolve to an intense swirl pattern to the right (north). L. Palmer photo.

Artificial earth satellites may make their way into the field of view. Notice the image above with the short white line indicating such a crossing.

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The curtain above now shows new beams forming along it. Clouds start to move from the north upward. L. Palmer photo.

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A unique curtain structure forms with variable intensity triggering the different color responses. L. Palmer photo.

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A wide angle view of aurora symmetry with building in foreground. L.Palmer photo.

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Intense aurora pattern. P. Maley photo with 14mm f/2.8 lens, 25 sec exposure for all photos that follow.

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Auroras can extend out of even thick clouds and become dramatic. Photo by A. Sain (Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ISO 3200, 13 seconds, f2.8)

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Two Iridium flares were oberved within one minute on our first night’s aurora trek. A wandering satellite caused the track above them. P. Maley photo.

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An arc and swirls as clouds approach. P. Maley photo.

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Multibeam formation on night#1. Compare to those below. P. Maley photo.

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Multibeam formation on night #4 returning from the Arctic Circle. P. Maley photo.

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A  swirl with our group in foreground. P. Maley photo.

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The swirl in the previous photo has now developed in to a curtain and swirl configuration. P. Maley photo.

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Part way back from the Arctic Circle we stopped again for aurora at a homestead currently not lived in. A long green arc crossed half the sky. P. Maley photo.

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These falling beams sprouted like weeds at the eastern end of the long arc. P.Maley photo.

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Gorgeous patterns develop just north of Fairbanks. P. Maley photo.

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Auroras fall like rain. P. Maley photo.

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Giant grasshopper sculpted in ice. P. Maley photo.

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The asteroid which blew up over Chelyabinsk Russia in early 2013 is memorialized through this ice sculpture.  P.Maley photo.

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