December 14, 2006 Auroras

Yay, finally, 2006 produces auroras here! It was already a fairly productive, yet tiring photography day. Well it was only half over. The CME from the X flare finally hit, but it hit at 8 a.m. Would the effects of that hit last into the night and cause storming this far south? A better question was would it be clear. It was looking good when I first woke back up at 11:30 a.m. and looked. I went back to sleep until 1:30 p.m. When I looked again a lovely cloud factory was getting going in SD and NE. Out of nowhere, mid and high level clouds were popping up all over. They were dropping south too. It was looking bad fast. Then near sunset the stuff further north in SD was dissipating pretty fast. The only obstacle left was this fairly wide patch dropping south down the Missouri River. I could see under it and knew how far north the clearing was before it was completely dark. Once it was dark I started pm'ing with Steve Peterson online about the auroras. Reports started popping up in MI and WI. I had been using the camera as a first warning. The camera will pick up auroras that you can't even see. I couldn't see the clearing line anymore so it was helping with that too. One image I thought I could see a green tint near the horizon to the northeast, but it was also near brighter lights. It wasn't at all definitive. Then I look at the one above. I saw it and was like, oh no! They were already pretty far south and high up in the sky. I was thinking I'd see them under the clearning line, closer to the horizon first. The clearing line is hard to see on the image but it is right at the arrow tips. The shot is looking due north. Those auroras shining through are way the hell up there. It was a shock to see them poke through there when I wasn't for sure they were even visible/happening. So I race out the door and head north, stopping to let my sister follow me to the bottoms north of town(and after making a few phone calls to make sure others knew about it).

As we got out of town and head down this hill to the flats, I could not believe how bright white the clouds were. I was like, it's shining right through those clouds, not through breaks in them, but through them. That red is coming from behind the clouds. F4, 17 seconds, 800 ISO.

I mentioned good bluring and bad bluring on the previous photo entry. You either blur it a lot or don't blur it at all...if you can. With auroras you'll often want to keep the shutter as short as you can, while still getting them bright enough(those hardly work together I know). So I'd say many of my shots here are in that crap area of blur for clouds as I had no choice most of the time. Well at least this one seems to be. The next image to me is just getting into the good blur, where it is a long enough exposure(for cloud movement).

This one was shot at F4, 46 seconds, 800 ISO. You can see the difference 46 seconds made to the look/blur of the clouds, compared to the 17 seconds on the previous image. If you are lucky enough to get strong auroras, maybe the best option is to just let whatever happens to the clouds happen. That is what I was doing most of the time. My shutter lengths were pretty much directly related to how bright the auroras were at that time. These things change a lot and distance doesn't mean much to their brightness that I've seen. I think the brightest I've seen them visually were beams shooting up on the far northern horizon...while the overhead times were close and photograph well, they weren't any brighter. The visual look to the beams were a whole lot dimmer than the 2 extreme geomatic storms I've seen(both G5, which is the top category..this was G4). It was obvious right away they'd need a bit more ISO and a bit more shutter. When I shoot auroras I want them to come out bright, regardless of how bright they were at the time. If you've never seen auroras, they do not look anything like this in person. I've found them more fun to shoot than to watch most of the time(there are times where they look cooler in person thanks to seeing it live and seeing movement). The cool things you can see with your eyes the camera really doesn't capture well. I was dissapointed there weren't any of those high speed horizontal(not vertical) waves that raced south across entire the sky with the extreme events I saw. I think the Bz component this time only got down to -15 to -20, while those two events it was pegged off the charts at -50. The dates of those two events were November 7, 2004 and May 14, 2005.

The red beams are now gone for a bit. Some of the longer shots will show red on the bottoms of the clouds from the city lights nearby. When things go red, it really doesn't stay that way that long. They will fall back down into the green beams. The green often looks more white than anything in person. You can tell when it will show up as red once areas in the green start reaching high up into the sky. The red will often look white too, or mostly white with a pink tendancy to it. But, that red beam on my May 14, 2005 stuff was quite red visually. I've also noted brighter reds with strong beams way off on the horizon. But many times what shows up red on a still will look a good deal white in person.

I was amazed at just how long this area of clouds sat here. It's like it was left behind and the clearing moved on south. All sorts of colors on this image. I had to fart around and change it up some. I held the flash light under my chin for a bit then decided to move it side to side like a light saber(don't ask me why). I ran into a problem when I tried to shut it off(seen on my right side). I spun it the wrong way, then finally said screw it and put my hand over the end and ran back to the camera. Those two red areas near me on the gravel were certainly from the light in my hand on my way back to the camera. Then behind me you can see the green auroras, the yellow town to the left, some redish colors on the bottom of the clouds from Blair lights, some red auroras above and behind those, and finally a car on the highway to the right side. The brighter grass on the right would be from my flashlight when I moved it side to side. F4, 24 seconds, 800 ISO.

They are now starting to go crazy again. Looking at the info on the shot I must have been trying to get one with the clouds more frozen. I up'd the ISO to 1600 and did it for 19 seconds.

F4, 16 seconds, 1600 ISO.

I called my parents as my sister and I drove down here, because I could see it was going to be good(kind of have to guess that when they are lighting up clouds.....I'm certain it was not related to any town lights). I said, drive north now. Wanting different shots instead of the same road, clouds and auroras I backed up and took this shot. That is my sister and her camera on the right. F4, 35 seconds, 800 ISO. I really tried to stick with 800 ISO as much as I could since I hate noise and knew 1600 would be a pain to clean up. And I certainly had my doubts on using 400 ISO(many under exposed aurora photos in the past with that). The noise was cleaned up on these using Neat Image....a wonder tool for that.

Sister and her camera again. You can see the lens pointing up. I think I cheated and told her to push her play button so her lcd would light up. I started the shot and asked if she was about done so it'd pop up on her screen for me. She said no so I said, ok hurry and push your play button for me. What would have been cool would be to not blow out her lcd and instead see her photo of the aurora on the lcd in this shot. Crap I think of this stuff too late. All that would have taken was to shut my shutter a split second after I see her lcd light up.

More farting around. You can see through me since I had to run back to the camera to stop the shot. I move and it is still exposing and now not seeing me but seeing the horizon and auroras instead. I never knew I could put the green auroras on my back like that lol. Some shots I did use the self timer to start, so that I could be in the shot when it began, but I still had to leave the spot and run back to stop it. Oh well it just makes it ghostly looking. The coolest part about this shot was the insane meteor that went from almost staight to nearly the horizon before fading. There were many ooohs and ahhhs said before it was even gone. Meanwhile I'm seeing it and trying to hold still. I was like, good lord I hope that was in my frame. You can barely see it in the top, just left of center. That is where it began. I'm pretty sure that was the best meteor I've ever seen. I see another cool one later while down by the river. That one was really lit up and broke into two pieces near the northern horizon.

When I came down here I had hoped those ice-chunks were still floating south. I had my doubts since it warmed up, but never thought they'd all be gone. That pesky, yet sort of adding to the shot, cloud deck is still not south! From here on out the auroras were never as intense. This is 8:11 p.m. central time. This was 64 seconds at F4, 800 ISO.

Back to the road. My parents and sister went to the river with me than went home. Randy, Bob, and Rhonda came down around this time. We had a good time jinxing the clouds away. This was the first time any of them had seen the auroras. It's too bad Randy and Rhonda didn't get to see the best part earlier. But it is still cool they got to see this and the rest on here. It tried to move south a few times and flared up from time to time but was often pretty faint to the eye. The line in this one is not a meteor but a plane(note it is dotted....blinking lights).

It was odd, it wanted to act intense in how the beams behaved, but it also wanted to stay pretty faint visually. It got kind of annoying seeing how it wanted to be, but it was just having issues. The Bz never went that far south and the velocity was now in a steady decline. The streak to the left on this one is a meteor(geminids peaked last night, but I was seeing soooooo many more this night......no idea on a number, but probably around 50 at least). You can tell it is a meteor in how it is more faded at the beginning and end. This one was no where near the class of that one earlier. F4, 16 seconds, 800 ISO.

F4, 22 seconds, 800 ISO.

F4, 14 seconds, 800 ISO with a truck driving away from us. That was another miss of the night. I should have set my camera to the side and got a vehicle going by, instead of putting it back onto the gravel and only getting it after it is down the road. I think this is a minimum maintenance road. I was amazed how many people were using it while I was here in the morning and then again this night. I honestly doubt the person driving this truck was even aware of what was going on infront of them. This was actually hard to see till you shut your headlights off.

F4, 27 seconds, 800 ISO. They were beaming up there again, but just so faint. There are times the same camera settings of a beam like that would leave you with something much much brighter than this

Auroras and hail dents. I've seen strong auroras in 04, 05 and now 06. 2006 has been a crappy year for storms and when it was good I was pretty crappy at finding them. So 2006 has this bad history about it with folks(other chasers). I kept thinking about this fact of seeing strong auroras every year since 2004 and wondering if 2006 could be so kind as to let it continue. I had my doubts as I've learned to have them this year.

Thank you 2006. Did I just say that?