June 28, 2013 Auroras, Airglow and Milky Way

I've been meaning to do the Milky Way at max height(summer) as well as simply attempt it from near Murray Hill, which is sadly due north of Omaha. Wanted to see how bad the light pollution was for it. With northerly dry flow from Canada and crazy blue skies during the day, I figured it was a good night to try. I checked space weather obs for that op as well. Knew there was a coronal high speed stream heading for Earth, about a day out. Well space plots showed the Bz had been slowly heading south all day and now holding about -10. Seems a great sign of a "co-rotating interactive region" ahead of the coronal high speed stream. That is how the explained it in the past and it was just ahead of an inbound coronal hole stream. Yet at 5pm NOAA's geomagnetic storm odds kinda fell and were down right pathetic. 25% active level, 5% storm and 1% severe storm odds for mid-latitudes. That is KP5, KP6 and KP7 respectively. Or G1, G2, G3. Top of that scale goes to KP8 and KP9 but both are rare. KP9 I think is on average 4 or 2 times in ELEVEN YEARS.

So anyway, seeing the Bz held at -10 south, I figured the odds were decently good at seeing some fashion of auroras. And knowing what "co-rotating interactive regions" have done as "surprises" in the past, ahead of coronal hole high speed streams, I felt optimistic there could be a good show. At least a lot more-so than NOAA's 5pm daily odds. I think I made a funny face when I saw those that evening. Well it ends up hitting KP7 or severe or the 1% odds lol. By the time it reached that threshold, show was over though. And that is why going off those scales on when to go out is such a bad idea. Just go off the dang Bz. See even a lame boring faint green arc, well it's likely going to require you just sitting out and watching anyway.

I like driving, even after a lot of busted chase days evidently. I looked forward to the slow 35 mile drive up the highway, north of town to the spot. I get there and there was a car in the parking lot. Hmm. Kinda scratched that idea and found a spot down below. Glad I did as there is nothing to shoot from on top of that hill anyway, unless there is low fog. The places there are objects to shoot tend to be near houses and well messing around at night near farm houses isn't a great idea. So I found a spot well up a "minimum maintenance" road, far from any houses. At this point I simply wanted to see how clear the Milky Way could be had from there and how much Omaha screwed up the good parts to the south.

Soon as it was finally completely dark, I could pick up auroras on my camera. Really lame faint as hell hard to see auroras. What was standing out though, was an excessive amount of green airglow. Maybe red airglow too, as I don't know that that was auroras or not. Plus it seems to be in other areas. The auroras in the above can be sen on the far left. Faint green orange band. And this shows how faint it was. Using really high ISO and a fast lens to pull out the green airglow and it's really the same lightness as the aurora....faint to the eye.

Auroras are really fickle most times. One can see a truly lame faint arc and assume it will stay that way all night. They'd probably find they were wrong if they made a night of it and watched. Most don't want to do that. So most miss the good shows. It can straight up go from faint hard to see like that, to amazing bright pillars in a couple minutes, stay amazing for 10 minutes, then fly right back to the lame faint green arc again in a couple more. I don't even like to call people usually, as they will head out and see it too late. They will then get sick of waiting for a good show to come back and go home, only to miss the next outburst. This night had 2 great outbursts. One about 11:15 and the other 11:40. Like 10 minutes long each basically.

I noticed the auroras acting up. Not going bright yet but doing more than they were. In no time they go from that faint hard to see green arc, to visible pillars, to really bright visible pillars as seen next.

Things went from "eh there are auroras there, great clear night sky with clear air glow" to "oh my god the auroras have gone nuts"...in a flash

I can't stress how clear the sky was. Has to really help some shows stand out. Looked like someone had huge flashlights out there now, lots of them shining up into the sky.

The pillars move fast enough sometimes that you really can't go over a 5 seconds exposure if you want their structure.

I was getting pretty mad at myself I hadn't scoped out any foreground incase there were good auroras. Figured I had time if they were there and worth a darn. I at least parked by the irrigation pivot. I did at least note that when driving and kept rolling till I got to it. To get across the ditch without breaking an ankle though. I really didn't want to use any lights as to not draw attention to myself. Wasn't a big ditch but it was lame all the same.

In the field now shooting the irrigation pivot. I wanted the auroras to tame down some now so I could image them with the airglow and Milky Way. Felt odd hoping for dimmer auroras lol.

Green, red, violet and green again. Thank you airglow! Stuff was everywhere.

I now began trying some shots for a pano stitch I'd do later. There is my problem with Omaha to the south. It's about 50 miles away. Anyway, I haven't done much with panos. And none with Milky Way. The high part was now pretty much straight up overhead. It made getting it in frame kinda hard, while still having some foreground. I was using the Samyang 14mm on a full frame 6D. I actually got by with 3 horizontal shots which stitched pretty fine.

Oh crap outburst number 2 now. Seemed almost as bright as number one, which was crazy but this one seemed wider.

Too bright now to expose either the Milky Way or airglow with it.

Crazy. Sure it wasn't very far south, like overhead or anything, but it was bright. Well I think it was 50% how bright it was but the other 50% was how insanely clear it was. This is 14mm on a full frame, so the pillars were getting up there.

Best way to not see good auroras come back is start a star trail. I never see them surge back once I do. Moon rising over there now. That rose at 12:30.

Star trail with moon up.

Ok here is a pano from earlier. With the Milky Way going so strong and all this green airglow, it was simply a must get deal with the auroras. My car and auroras are straight north up this road and the bright light of Omaha straight south down it. The top of the Milky Way is just about straight up.

Another pano now right under the pivot. I can't believe it stitched this so well. I mean it is only 3 frames and they are uber wide angle images that stretch the corners and not only that but the Samyang 14 has a lot of mustache distortion. I removed the distortion during RAW conversion. Used Hugin to make the pano.

One more pano but during a time the auroras were at least a bit brighter. The horizon isn't really bent. It's the flats here but the bluffs are right there. It's mostly how those bluffs are in this area.

I can't think of being anywhere other than the Badlands at night where the silence was defening. It actually was here, I was susprised. I thought I'd hear the interstate but really wasn't. I could hear a train engine sometimes. But when that wasn't happening, there was nothing to hear. Zero wind most of the time. Must be the difference compared to all the times I've been on the bluffs right here and never noticed the utter silence. Always at least a breeze on the bluffs. I did have some coyotes sound off soon as I got out into the field a good ways. Was thinking, oh sure now you do it. Once the moon rose and I could see, I wished something like that would come around. I'd even welcome a mountain lion, stupidly, just to see one. A year or so ago a cop shot one in a tree right here. Anyway, it was quite peaceful just sittiing in the middle of that field, in the darkness, with the billions of stars above to wonder about.