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June 29, 2013 Auroras

Jeanette Lake on the Echo Trail.

This was the second trip around the sun for the coronal hole that developed and provided and aurora show for parts of the northern U.S. and Canada during the overnight period of May 31/June 1. That time, the clouds really filled in, making viewing very difficult for many people, but the best show was actually about three hours to my south. This time, though, I was a bit more optimistic about clearing skies as the forecast models showed the clouds and showers, which had been present during the day, to clear off during the late evening. As the time approached, and the rain intensified, it was pretty obvious that that forecast was wrong, so I started northeast with a goal of reaching clear skies near Orr, MN. My route would take me through Chisholm and up Highway 73 to U.S. 53 to Orr.

Intensifying rain as I approached Hibbing made me somewhat pessimistic about seeing any openings in the clouds, but I kept driving and finally cleared the rain on the north side of Chisholm as I started up MN 73. As the light faded, I could see twighlight through breaks in the clouds along the northern horizon. Things were starting to look good. As I drove through Sturgeon and Linden Grove, the clouds filled back in a bit, but I could see an occasional star. By the gradients of light I could see, it appeared there may be auroras behind the clouds, so I found a side road and stopped to snap a few pictures.

Twilight and fireflies near Linden Grove, MN.
A picture of the coronal hole (dark spot in the middle) associated with these auroras.

The pictures revealed it was still difficult to tell whether the light was due to auroras or fading twilight, but the fireflies were really intense! I focused my camera on the center of the road leading to my north and snapped a few more pictures.

11:00 PM CDT. A swarm of fireflies on Chisholm Road.

There were still too many clouds. I checked satellite photos, which showed the clearing line just across the Canadian border and the clouds retreating from northeast to southwest. I continued northward, and as the twilight faded away almost completely, I could see green light glowing through the clouds. Since there was essentially no traffic, I stopped in the road and set up my tripod to take a green clouds time lapse. I also used a flashlight to illuminate my own "thumbs down" to the clouds.

11:19 PM: aurora FAIL!!!

I reached Orr, and still no clearing, but another check of satellite told me I should be okay if I continued to the east toward Buyck or Crane Lake. I decided to take the Echo Trail and went southeast from Buyck. Finally, there were some breaks showing up, and I could tell there were auroras almost over the top of me. It was hard to see in the darkness and through the trees, but as I crested one hill, I could see the moon rising on the horizon to my east. I knew there had to be clear skies. I continued to the boat landing at Jeanette Lake. I could finally see the auroras through broken clouds. It was really getting late, and the clearing was moving my way, so this location would have to be good enough.

Jeanette Lake
Finally, at 1:00 AM, broken clouds at Jeanette Lake.

As it turned out, I think this location was fantastic! The waning moon (a little closer to full than last quarter) was starting to illuminate the foreground, and the lake was a very typical Canadian Shield type lake with lots of granite and a couple small islands. Across the lake to my northwest, I could hear a chorus of green frogs and mink frogs. To my north was a persistent whip-poor-will and an occasional loon. All these animals would provide some nice natural sound for any time lapse I might shoot, provided the guys camping a quarter mile to my east shut off their music (why people come up to such a remote place to listen to the same sounds they hear at home baffles me). The auroras were not terribly intense, but they were far enough above the northern horizon that they could put on a good show. I had lost my cell phone signal, so I could not check the magnetic field.

Soon, the auroral oval intensified and became focused in a narrow band, much like it seems to do in higher latitudes (the oval usually looks more diffuse farther south). I turned one camera to the west while the other was shooting time lapse. I was a bit challenged by the fact that I had forgotten one of my tripods, but looking back at the pictures, I realize I had almost forgotten about the challenges of using the other camera without a tripod. I had to set it flat on the dock and prop it with lens caps or filter containers.

Concentrated Band
1:45 AM. A really nice, concentrated oval!.

A mild substorm ensued. The auroras filled more of the northern half of the sky, and the dimmer arcs spread a little into the southern sky. It was hard to tell exactly where the southernmost are was because the green was obscured by moonlight to the south. The guys in the nearby campsight turned off their music, so I could record some natural sound.

Filling the sky
1:55 AM CDT. Auroras spread across the sky, reaching overhead.

This initial substorm faded over the next half hour, so recorded some natural sound while I waited for the auroras to brighten up again. By 3:00 AM, that was happening again. I had set one camera on the dock to do a fish-eye time lapse while I used the tripod to compose a shot with the other camera to capture the brightening and well-structured oval to my northeast.

Structured Band
3:00 AM. A new, narrow, and focused auroral band develops.
3:16. More intensity and a variety of color.
3:18. A great, multi-colored display!

After about half an hour of this, the oval started to retreat to the north, and the northern horizon was starting to brighten up with the approaching dawn. I switched to ISO 400 and f2.8 with my 24mm prime lense and fired off a couple shots.

3:31 AM. Dawn is approaching, and the northeastern sky is lightening.

I packed my gear, got it loaded into the car, and started back west on the Echo Trail. As I rounded a bend in the road near a small river that rain parallel to the north, I looked up and to the right, seeing the quickly fading stars and a green band in the brightening sky. I stopped here to take a few last pictures of the scene to capture the river, fog, auroras, and moon at dawn.

Last aurora
3:59 AM. Stars are disappearing, but the auroras aren't done.
Echo Trail
4:07 AM. One last shot on the Echo Trail.

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