Tag Archives: Northern Lights

Optimizing Your Probability of Seeing Northern Lights

Here is an educational Aurora Borealis post. If folks ask the question, will the Northern Lights be active on a certain date in the future, here is information which will help you with trip planning.

While some folks may have different opinions, if I were planning a trip to the Lake Superior Region, Alaska, Norway, Iceland, etc. with the hopes of also viewing the Northern Lights as part of that trip, I would take into account the following information before choosing trip dates:

  1. September would be my first choice of months due to increasingly longer nights, and stable weather.
  2. October and March would be my second choices for months as nights are long, but weather tends to be a bit more suspect … cloudy nights.
  3. Any other month between November and February, inclusive.
  4. I would avoid the Summer months due to short nights in terms of darkness, and no darkness if you travel far enough north. However, Northern Lights do dance in the Summer. I have personally watched great Aurora displays in northern Minnesota in early August (see example). True darkness at night occurs approximately between two hours after sunset and two hours before sunrise.
  5. I would browse to SpaceWeather.Com and check their 28 day cycle long range forecast (scroll down on page linked immediately below). I have included an annotated screenshot to show you what I mean.
  6. Remember, the sun’s cycle is about 29 days, while the moon is about 28 days. Long range Aurora forecasts are based upon the recent Solunar Cycles. If sunspots were occurring about 28 days ago, there is a decent chance there may be sunspot activity today. Sunspots with CME’s directed towards earth cause Auroras. (CME = Coronal Mass Ejection)
  7. If you have to plan more than 28 days in the future … choose dark nights (duration of dark sky each night plus moon phase) and stable months in terms of weather. Really bright moonlight tends to wash out the any possible good viewing of the Northern Lights.

Always Look in the Rear View Mirror!

Last night the Northern Lights numbers skyrocketed, but viewing was difficult due to the almost full moon, and ground fog forming from the 37F temperature. My first stop was Little Stone Lake near Brimson, Minnesota where the Aurora fought with the ambient light from the lingering sunset and almost full moon.

My next stop was a very remote wilderness lake deep in the Superior National Forest. I struck out on viewing opportunities at the lake due to ground fog caused by 37F temperatures. However while driving home I took a longer glance in my car’s rear view mirror. I noticed the lights were starting to pop. Thus, I found an unknown river and watched a short dance. The river was “in the clear”.

Davidson Windmill Milky Way

Last night rather than the Northern Lights, I chased the Milky Way with my camera! The Davidson Windmill is located just outside of Superior on Wisconsin hwy #13.

Weather forecast: Clear Skies
Moon forecast: Shining, but not too much. Setting about 2 am.
Milky Way forecast: Core will be in proper position at 2 am.
This kind of research and much more goes into a Milky Way photograph. First there is only about one month per year that the core of the Milky Way is properly positioned for me to “get” the photograph I wanted of this windmill. Earlier in the Spring the Milky Way would be positioned to far to the east. Later in the Summer the Milky Way would be position to far to the west in the night sky.
Obviously I needed clear skies, but in addition I wanted some moonlight to illuminate the windmill, but not too much moonlight. In addition I needed the moon in the proper position in the sky to shine upon the Davidson Windmill.
Last night I set my alarm for 12:45 am and within five minutes of waking up I was driving to my photoshoot location where I arrive at 1:30 am.
Thus, photographs like this image do not just happen by accident. A huge amount of planning goes into execution. Finally, even before I take a photograph I need to see “in my mind” what I believe the end result will look like … and oh yes, I miss a lot of sleep!
For other photographers, this is one image (not multiple stacked images). I was using my Sony A6000 with a Rokinon wide angle lens. The aperture was set to 2.0 (wide open), the exposure was 25 seconds, and my ISO was 2000.

Here is a slightly different treatment. Everything is the same except I now had an ISO of 3200 and a 20 second exposure.