Aurora on the Tors Trail - lwpetersen photography

March 24, 2015. I wake up at 3:30 am. It's cold, just so damned cold. I had my ass kicked the day before dragging a 60-pound sled up 1800 feet through deepening, soft snow. Solid hard-pack below the tree line gave way to waist deep crud on the alpine tundra. Every step was a single-leg squat. I gave up and camped.

Anyway. 3:30 am. I pry myself out of my sleeping bag into the cold, Alaska interior air, step out of my tent and look south.

I don't really think much of it. There are people all over the world that would kill to get views of the aurora like this. This is nearly a nightly occurrence in Fairbanks. I'm spoiled. This is boring.

The aurora wasn't incredibly bright, and this close to the morning it usually just spreads across the sky, becoming diffuse, often pulsating, but barely visible to the eye. I consider turning back in. It was a failure of a hike, it might as well be a failure in aurora viewing as well.

But, the Milky Way was out too. So I take a few more photos.

I start to take the camera off the tripod. When I look into the northwestern sky. A large "wave" starts to form - moving slowly to the south, followed by 4 more. These kinds of structures often precede auroral breakup, which can often have an "explosive" result. I re-mounted the camera and kept shooting.

This large fold sailed off into the southern sky (the light on the horizon is from the town of North Pole, about 45 miles south of me). I turned my camera north. The action was starting.

The main auroral band brightens, starting in the northwest and creeping south. It diverges into multiple bands, takes over the whole sky, and then a corona erupts overhead!

This overhead burst only lasts for 1 minute and 10 seconds, yet it was the longest time I've ever seen a corona last. Not many people get to see such a magnificently beautiful display. I feel lucky.

Now the aurora starts to spread out - taking off to different corners of the sky. It's not as bright anymore, but dancing everywhere. It's . . . overwhelming.

The city lights in the last photo are from Fairbanks, about 45 miles to the west. The aurora oversaturated the camera sensor in the green channel - that's why it appears to have white streaks in it.

A spiral formed.

Shortly after, the lights spread out becoming diffuse, much dimmer. Again taking over nearly the entire sky.

It was such a remarkable sight over the Chena Hills. I thought it was over . . . usually this close to sunrise, it just becomes diffuse and pulses. Instead, it rallied.

It finally did what I expected, filled the sky and started pulsing. There was still some dancing just below the northern horizon. In the photo above, the diffuse aurora higher in the sky is really not that strong to the eye. It's visible but just barely. The camera picks it up much easier. The blobby clusters pulsate slowly.

It was time for me to finally sleep. I knew I had a long hike out, but I had no idea how long of a day it was actually going to be.

This is a collection of my longer stories originally posted on Ello
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