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Category: Chase Logs

Stories about the thrill of chasing the aurora.

Spectacular Morning on March 27!

As the Sun set across Alaska on the evening of March 26, there was not a lot of anticipation for aurora activity. The cloud forecasts for our area were indicating somewhat unfavorable conditions with a few breaks expected. Looking at the forecasts, the decision was made to head towards the Sutton, Alaska, area to try something different. The target location was Slipper Lake, just northwest of Sutton.

The roads out to Sutton were dry with just a few areas of snowmelt running across the highway. I was excited to try this new location, recommended by a friend, as it gave a new venue to capture the northern lights in. That excitement was dashed when I made it to the entrance to get into the lake. The snow on the road back to the lake was 10-14″ deep, a fallen tree was covering a small portion of the road, and there was no cell service in that area. With all of that in mind, I turned around and headed to a different location.

On the way out to Sutton, the solar wind data was not too great. The Bt, density, and speed values were elevated, but Bz had remained north much of the evening. However, as I was getting into position, the Bz began to shift south. I arrived at my chosen spot, set up my GoPro and Sony cameras, and began filming the skies around 11:15pm AKDT (photo above).

As we moved into the wee hours of March 27, aurora activity began to pick up. Eventually, the entire horizon was fraught with color. To the naked eye, the green was a bit of a brighter gray/green, but you could definitely see the gradient change as you looked further up in the sky. The red/orange was faintly visible, as was the purple color. Although they were not brilliant at the time, they really popped out on the camera. The arc really became active around 12:10am on March 27 (photo above).

The lights danced for much of the night, off and on, as we sat under the stars. At one point, a magnificent fireball streaked across the sky (photo above); one of many shooting stars we saw throughout the night. As the morning progressed, activity picked up until the aurora activity drifted overhead. The corona we saw (photo below), looking directly overhead, was simply amazing!

Saturday night was one of the better aurora displays I have seen yet this season. I am excited for this week, as two coronal mass ejections are inbound and expected to arrive Wednesday into Thursday. I usually do not venture out during the week, but I plan to keep an eye on the data and clouds this week to potentially chase some lights during the week. We will just have to wait and see what happens!

March 13, 2022: An Amazing Morning!

Anticipation was high for the impending G1-G2 geomagnetic storm the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) was forecasting for March 14-15, 2022. Based on the previous forecasts being 12-18 hours late, I had not considered that it could actually come early. I was working on some web stuff and casually looking at data and Twitter to keep abreast of the solar information through the night. The time changed one hour ahead at 2am, and I was still reading stuff and working on things.

At 4am, I decided it had been a long enough day and headed to bed. As I was getting ready to get into bed, I thought I would look at the data one last time. That is when I saw a sharp increase in the data from SWPC and chatter on Twitter that the CME had arrived at the DSCOVR satellite. Looking at the data, it did not look like it was a clear indication, so I reached out to see. I was informed that it was, in fact, a clear CME signature and I decided to head up to Mt. Baldy, just 15 minutes from my house.

I typically do not go to Mt. Baldy. People race up to the top like there is no tomorrow, even in icy conditions, and it can get quite dangerous. I have almost been run over by a speeding car and people have had their vehicles side-swiped because it gets so busy. However, at 4:10am, I was confident the crowd would be minimal. Thus, I took a leap of faith and headed up the mountain. I think it is easy to say, I was not disappointed to be the only car up there and I was not disappointed for staying out so late.

I took my first photo at 4:36am (above) of what wan an amazing arc dancing in the sky. As the morning continued, the arc became more active and started drifting to the south. Before long, I found myself directly underneath it as it continued to dance across the skies above Eagle River. Within about 90 minutes or so, I had aurora directly overhead!

The corona displays were amazing (photo above)! I had not seen this much overhead activity in the Eagle River area since last January and, possibly, March (I was at Hatcher Pass that night). We did have quite the solar storm back in October and November, but clouds prevented viewing much of the activity overhead. This activity was the best I have personally witnessed since that trip to Hatcher Pass last year.

As the morning drew on, it was evident the aurora was dancing all over the sky. Even with the Waxing Gibbous moon hanging in the sky, the lights were bright enough to see with the naked eye. I do not have an external intervalometer for my camera, so I tried to stay focused on capturing continuous images of the night. However, I was constantly moving my camera to try catching as much of the intense activity as I could. I kicked myself for not having my second tripod to have my GoPros running while I was taking stills.

I knew, once I hit the mountain at 4:30am, I was going to stay out until the lights either dissipated or the sunrise began to wash them out. One of the coolest things I found from the morning, during post-processing of my 571 photos, was that I actually captured blue aurora (photo above)! It was very, very faint with the naked eye when I watched it, but it looked more purple to me than blue. However, once I was able to process the photos, I could clearly see the bright blue streak the camera picked up. I thought that was pretty awesome!

The last shot of the morning was taken at 7:10am as the sunrise began to wash the lights out. You could still make out the clouds of aurora in the light, but they were very, very faint. The final shot I took was of the moon setting over the Turnagain Arm with the faint aurora overhead (photo above). I thought it was a neat capture of three events at one time: moon set, aurora, and sunrise. As you can see, it was definitely a great morning to stay out late! If you would like to see the entire night’s time lapse, the video is embedded below. Enjoy!

Nothing Spectacular for March 6-7

We went out to the river in hopes of seeing some good displays the evening of March 6 into the morning of March 7 with absolutely amazing clear skies. The data looked somewhat weak, but things were showing there might be a decent chance of seeing some aurora activity, so we gave it a shot. So, we loaded up and arrived at the river just a little after 11pm.

Upon arriving at the river, there was not a whole lot happening. There was no real arc evident on the horizon, but we continued to wait. Around 12:25am, the camera started picking up the first indications of the auroral arc on the horizon as solar wind data continued to favor aurora activity over our area. Finally, at 12:30am, the horizon began to glow with a more intense gray as aurora activity began to appear far on the horizon. We were able to capture good camera shots from approximately 12:30am until 1:30am when a think area of shallow fog began forming along the river.

We continued to try waiting for aurora activity until just before 3am. At that point, the fog thickened up enough that visibility was being significantly hampered. Thus, the decision was made to call it a night and head home. Some who stayed out a little longer reported seeing pulsating aurora in the sky with greens and pinks. Altogether, not a spectacular night but, based on the image above, it was still a good night out trying to catch the aurora!

Phenomenal Night March 4/5!

What an amazing night of chasing the night of March 4th into the wee hours of March 5th! The early week cloud forecasts showed that Friday night would be too cloudy for much around Anchorage, but breaks were possible. There was some chatter that clouds should start breaking out around the Knik River area as the 10 o’clock hour neared. A look at satellite imagery showed that clouds were indeed starting to break up, so the decision was made to head to the river and get set up for some waiting.

There were only a few cars at the river when we first arrived, including on tour group taking pictures right next to the swimming hole. I set up the Sony camera to start taking some pictures and was able to confirm a very nice arc over the ridge line to the north. It was a fairly bright, gray “mist” hanging just above the mountains, but the camera had no problem showing the green color. We eventually moved down next to the river and waiting for the show to begin.

The app started showing a great uptick in solar wind data, with HPI indicating 40-41 GW around 11:45pm. We started watching the arc and could see it starting to gain intensity. Then, as expected from keeping an eye on the app’s data, the aurora lit up the sky at 11:49pm. And, what a show it was! We wrapped up at 3am but what a great night it was to be out!

We plan to go out on Sunday, Mar 6, so hopefully I’ll have another update on Monday!

Wonderful Chase Feb 26/27!

We had an amazing night across the Anchorage area on Saturday night (Feb 26) and into Sunday (Feb 27) morning! There was no real plan to chase on Saturday evening, as cloud projections showed the area in thick cover. However, one member of the lights group indicated clouds would break near the river around 10pm. Sure enough, satellite data showed clouds starting to break up and drier conditions moving into the region. Additionally, the hemispheric power index (HPI) increased from 15 GW to 25 GW from 9pm to 10pm. With that in mind, the decision was made to hit the road!

Ronnie, Ed, and Crystal
Ronnie, Beth, Chris, Ed, and Crystal

We arrived on location around 10:30pm and began to set up. Shortly afterwards, we noticed a significant glow in the sky and the white mountains in front of us began to shine in the night, almost as if the moon were starting to rise. We took some photos overhead and verified the leading edge of the arc was, in fact, directly overhead. To say we got a little excited was an understatement!

The lights came in several waves throughout the night. The HPI shot up to 54 GW early on in the evening, before tailing off to the 40s and 30s over the next couple of hours. The interesting thing about the night was the Bz stayed relatively north all night, with just a few dips south. However, the constant fluctuations of Bz gave us nearly continuous aurora displays from around 11pm until we closed down the chase around 4am. It was a great night to be out and was the best chase I’ve been on since last March. I hope to see a few more of these before we lose darkness in the next 45 days or so!

See more photos in the SmugMug photo gallery!

No Luck Chasing: Feb 25-26

We headed out to the Knik River under partly to mostly cloudy skies, the best we’ve seen in a few nights, hoping for some activity. Sadly, nothing happened, other than a faint arc which you can see on the left side of the picture below, just above the mountains.

Data was pretty dismal, to say the least. Bz was bouncing up and down between around +3 and +0.77 all night after 11pm AKST. Bt, density, and wind speed were all low too, so we did not have the highest of hopes from the start. As the Bz began to jump up and down, still north, we noticed the faint arc appear briefly. Nothing spectacular, but the stars were amazing!

No Luck Chasing: Feb 19-21

Mother Nature won out again over our area. The solar wind brought a bit of an uptick in data Friday into Saturday and again Sunday into Monday. However, the few stars we saw in the night sky quickly succumbed to a thick cloud deck ahead of this next storm system expected to give us some snow and rain over the next day or so. Conditions are not looking too great right now for the rest of the week or even the weekend. If you’re in Alaska and interested on my thoughts for this week, you can click here to read them (for subscribed users).

I am hopeful the cloud forecast changes for Feb 25/26, but I am not going to hold my breath on having a good opportunity to go out and chase. This winter has been quite depressing from an aurora watching standpoint. We just cannot seem to catch a break in the southern part of Alaska. Fairbanks, on the other hand, has had quite a season! Perhaps I need to look at heading up that way soon!

Looking to Chase Feb 19/20!

The Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) has issued a G1 alert for Saturday/Sunday and I am a bit excited! We should see some cleaning here in the Anchorage area over the course of Saturday and into Sunday morning. This is lining up perfectly with the G1 alert coming in and the projections showing a good uptick in density and speeds over that timeline. More to come, I am sure, but get excited if you are in Alaska this weekend…it looks very, very promising!

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