Photos of the Northern Lights


We have a friend visiting who's on her way up to Yellowknife, Canada, to see the Northern Lights. While poking around the net researching her trip, I found James Pugsley's Astronomy North, a lovely site that has some amazing images of the Aurora Borealis. I also found out that the high temperature in Yellowknife this weekend is going to be -32 degrees F.

Besides the many cool pictures, Astronomy North provides time-lapse photography videos of the Aurora Borealis, weather and viewing forecasts, and loads of Canadian astronomy resources. I also found the icon on today's Aurora Forecast page strangely comforting.


Astronomy North


(Shawn Connally and Bruce Stewart are guest bloggers)


  1. Some beautiful shots there. The Aurora is something I’ve wanted to see all my life but have never made enough actual effort. Got a fresh New Year’s Resolution now…

  2. always has an incredible gallery of aurora photography, and provides forecasts about aurora activity…check it

  3. I was in Fairbanks in 1991 in September. It was late at night and I was riding my bike. I HEARD the Aurora before I saw it, this buzzing sound like a malfunctioning transformer and I looked up and this purple and green undulating ribbon was whipping back and forth over my head. I swerved because it freaked me the fuck out. It literally felt like it was just over my head, it was that intense. Once I realized what it was and it was not going to kill me, I sat down on the lawn by the side of the road and watched in awe. If you’ve seen those garish tourist photos of the Aurora and thought “It CAN’T be that vivid. They must have goosed it in Photoshop.” Well… it IS that vivid and more. Well worth a trip solely for the purpose of seeing the phenomenon.

    Also, it’s a completely different experience if you’ve seen it over your head as opposed to just a distant vague green glow on the horizon. When I was in Anchorage, you could see the Aurora off in the distance. COMPLETELY different in Fairbanks.

  4. Isn´t there an absolute lack of sunspot activity for the last couple of month and with that also no northern lights. I might be wrong so – definately not an expert, but I always thought that northern lights are created by sunspots spitting out electromagnetic waves that then react with our atmosphere (after they reached us traveling from the sun).

    This is the sun at the moment just one tiny spot forming for the first time since a couple of month.

  5. @#9: Sorta. We are in an extended sunspot lull, but there’s always a general cosmic wind of charged particles blowing past us. Sunspots and flares increase the drama, but are not the root cause.

    And that pic? Damn. That’s one featureless star. It is normally a lot more active, even in a lull. I believe an astro-nut friend of mine mentioned the next Solar Maximum (2011) is shaping up to be pathetic.

    Serious lightshows can be had when we have the rare occurrence of a Coronal Mass Ejection sent our way. Unfortunately those are generally bad, and the Aurora is the only nice part of one of those. CMEs are often produced from a lot (or concentrated) sunspot activity. It’s like a super-huge solar flare. Mostly we’ve seen pics of them flying away from the flanks of the solar disk; we haven’t had one come our way in a while.

    As I understand, no one’s really sure how bad it would be to get hit with one, but DOOM could be involved. Not because Terra is vulnerable, (I guess there might be a small spike in some cancer types, And you wouldn’t want to be on the ISS), but because our electronics are. Especially all those satellites. A CME is Nature’s own EMP/ION-Cannon/PPC.

    We would, in fact, have warning if one was on the way, since the observational satellites for the Sun, like SOHO, will see the visible-light image in about 8 minutes, but the actual CME wave will take, I think, hours or days to get here.

    So if a CME headed for Earth is all over the news, prepare for an extended power outage (which may not happen, but prepare), put your laptop in a Faraday cage or any available Kryptonite box, and head north for the Planetary Tesla Symphony (A Festival of Light and Sound!)

  6. Beautiful.
    Yes, seeing overhead multicoloured red, green and white aurora in solid bands with defined edges is a different experience than whispy clouds on the horizon. I have seen it a number of times looking exactly like a sharp curtain edge waving over my head (as far south as Winnipeg).

    I don’t know why they are so common here in the prairies, yet I don’t recall seeing them in Vancouver (perhaps the light pollution and cloud). I don’t think Southern B.C. is significantly further from the magnetic pole than we are.

    FYI, some traditions advise not looking at them. Don’t know if it is because they are “dangerous” or because it is rude, but I was told it is okay to notice and glance at them, but staring is not good.

    Of course that is not everyone’s tradition. I am just fine with staring.

  7. just a half-century forward, Strumpet, and you have been able to see them at that latitude. Light pollution has taken so much for so long, it’s horrendous what city kids grow up without any inkling of.

    Shades on city street lights and a return to evening blackouts (to”save energy!”, that’s what we should be pushing.

  8. True, Takuan.

    Even out in the country you can often see the light column from towns that are 30 or 40 km away.

    Though city lights do little more than dull the edges of a strong aurora display. Even right downtown under streetlamps you might miss a distant display, but if they were right overhead there’s no way you could not see it.

    I’m thinking it’s the cloud cover, but also I don’t recall EVER seeing aurora in Vancouver, though I didn’t get out of town often enough when I lived there to know if there was a difference in the country. Has anyone from rural southern BC or washington state seen them there?

    As an aside, I remember hearing a radio program on light pollution that recalled a power outage in L.A. when people were freaking out and calling 911 about the the strange lights in the sky (maybe they meant the milky way…. but I still find it a bit hard to believe).

  9. Anybody who lives north of Scotland is a bastard. FACT :P

    And I’m still pissed off about missing the low-latitude one visible from Cardiff, around October 2004 (because I was inside, playing GTA: San Andreas, and had forgotten about it, after informing everybody I knew of the warning).

  10. I’m from Yellownknife. Although the cold is godforsaking there is something to be said about the people.

    Everyone is friendly, theres loads to do (if your willing to bundle up and borrow some snow shoes) and the scenery is beautiful. Even though I’m in much nicer climes now, I miss it all the time.

    I worked at a coffee shop a couple of years ago and James would be coming in at 10 o’clock (right at close) more than a few nights a week to grab a chai before he headed out to spend his nights camping in his truck waiting to take the photos you see on his website. I doubt that has changed.

    If you ever go to Yellowknife be sure to check out:

    – Javaroma coffee
    – The Black Knight Pub (tell Steve behind the bar Dave Maguire says hi)
    – Gallery of the Midnight Sun (for your northern art and souviners)

  11. Is it selfish of me to wish they had copies of their pictures stored at higher resolutions?

    Good 1920×1080 images are strangely rare, especially considering that many cameras are taking shots at even higher resolutions than that when configured to use their “best” settings. And something tells me when a photographer goes through the trouble taking one of these, they aren’t shooting at 640×480…

    Oh jeez, life on the edge is just *so* hard ;)

  12. @Ab5tract: I agree- most photogs are pretty stingy with their online galleries. My friend Yuichi runs aurora tours for (mostly) Japanese visitors in the winter, generally in the Whitehorse area. He’s got some great pics on his website, but again, they’re pretty small.

    If you’re looking for nice desktops (as I would assume from your comment), try Flickr’s Creative Commons search. Lots of good pictures up there.

  13. “Different cultures hold many beliefs about the Northern Lights. Lapps have believed that the Northern Lights have a special quality to settle disagreements. Asians believe they increase fertility, while the Japanese believe that children conceived under the Northern Lights are lucky.”

  14. Am I the only one that is irked by that “CALM 2.0″ graphic?

    Somehow the shadowside of the moon has become transparent. You can see the stars and the Milky Way shining through it.

    That’s OK for an illustration in a storybook, but unforgiveable for an organization claiming to have any relation with astronomy.

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