On the evening of September 24th I was meeting with friends near Rosalind in middle Alberta. It is just a 1.5 hour drive south east of Edmonton and offers reasonably dark skies for a location so close to a major city. The idea that night was to photograph the galactical center of the Milky Way one last time, before it drops below the horizon and will not be seen until the morning hours of early March 2017. Near Rosalind one of my favourite abandoned houses as about to align perfectly with the Milky Way and I was super excited to meet with my friends Leonard and Christian there.
When I arrived at the scene I quickly checked the aurora data on spaceweatherlive.com and was surprised to see that the direction of the magnetic field had been in a negative orientation for quite a while, which should give us a chance to also see the aurora. As early as 8.20 pm I was able to see the aurora with my eyes and this was well in astronomical twilight, meaning it was still light outside. I set up everything for the Milky Way shots and used my back-up camera to record a timelapse of the aurora (which I have yet to process). Interestingly, when I checked the back of my camera after the first Milky Way shot (to the south) I saw that the front of the house was glowing green, turning around to the North I could easily see why, the lights were going strong with discrete pillars racing along the horizon.
Things brightened further and around 9.35 pm activity peaked, which also gave a blobby aurora feature just overhead and luckily this feature crossed the Milky Way, so that I eventually recorded a rare image of the galactical center and the aurora in one frame. I was stoked, the night was done and I had achieved what I could have done already in May when a big geomagnetic storm hit around new moon, but I did not manage to get out. So I got some redemption in the end. That night I got it all and for the days to come the aurora was forecasted to be even stronger as a large trans-equatorial coronal hole was rotating into geoeffective position.
The nights after the 24th all yielded nice aurora displays around Edmonton and I decided to go out from the 28th to the 29th and head to Elk Island Nationalpark (EINP) with friends. As we drove out of the city a green band was visible on the horizon at 8.45 pm and when we arrived at the Shoreline Trailhead in EINP we still had some time before the display was about to really pick up. The data called for a drop in Bz and we were anxiously waiting for the lights to begin their dance across the sky. We almost gave up at that point and were about to walk back to the cars but from one moment to another it was as if someone switched on the aurora, it was very brilliant, bright and vivid, an outstanding display that I wanted to capture in a nice frame. To get the composition I wanted I had to get my feet wet at the shore of the lake , but it was worth it. Reds and Oranges were visible to the eye, but activity did not last long and pillars had gone as quickly as they appeared.
We switched locations and drove to a road side pond north of Astotin Lake waiting for the second flare-up and it came, with nice pillars and curtains of aurora racing across the sky. I was shooting with my Rokinon 14mm/2.8 again after a long time, as my Nikkor 20/1.8 AF-S lens has become my new go-to night lens. And I was somekind of struggling getting the right settings dialled in that night, but for the bright auroras I found that on my Nikon D750 ISO1600, with 6sec at f2.8 worked best. After that clouds rolled into EINP and we called it a night, but the skies cleared on our way back to town. We stopped again at a spot near Half Moon Lake and the skies were filled with dancing pillars again. But there was also a second phenomenon I had seen before, but never that strong. The sky was pulsing like a heart beat. I don’t know the scientific explanation for it, but it sure was impressive, and it was so fast I couldn’t pin it on camera. Moreover, a very bright fireball was coming down and it was a real “snail” as it was so slow that I captured it in two consecutive 6sec frames, which I found remarkable. After that the night was done for us and I headed back home with ca, 300 images of beautiful Northern Lights to process.