Sunday, February 22, 2009

Amazing Aurora

The night before last (Friday night) was rather exciting up in Kaktovik since the skies were finally clear and we had a beautiful breakup around 11:30pm local time. I got good footage of some flickering aurora and just enjoyed the show. There was not a chance to launch into it, since they were down for high winds at Poker.

But last night was the real show! The first breakup was a bit of a surprise. A sort of diffuse arc had formed earlier on and moved slowly southward, but we lost track of it in our allsky imager as it moved too far the the south. We had been waiting several hours at the observatory, no call lately from the other stations and naturally we were staring off at walls or lost in our thoughts. All of a sudden Jim says, "Hey, there's something going on." Indeed, there was an intense brightening in the south east on the allsky. And within seconds we saw the breakup come rushing north. I barely had time to run outside and get my camera pointed at it before it was all over us. The sky was totally alive for the next 20 minutes. I got some great shots of the coronal aurora with intense flickering, and managed to grab a few minutes to just stand outside and stare up. It was like nothing I've seen before in my life, there were so many colors at one point it was practically a rainbow: red, violet, blue, green, white. It was quite dynamic, with lots of shear motion, whorls and flickering. Again, we couldn't launch since Poker was still out for winds. It was a surprise attack; the folks at Poker didn't see it coming at us. So that was quite the adrenaline rush and one of the most beautiful sights of my lifetime. If that wasn't enough, soon another arc formed and headed south and hung out above Fort Yukon then disappeared in our imager. We were watching to the south east and waiting for this one, so we saw it coming and got our cameras pointed. The second breakup was not nearly as spectacular, though magnetically just as powerful - both events reached 400 nT strengths. It dissipated quickly but soon reformed as a bright arc overhead and revived itself for about 5 more minutes. Watching the aurora outside is wonderful but I found myself spending half my time outside and half my time inside just watching the images through my camera and seeing the plasma motions more clearly. It was fascinating. Poker was still too windy, but they did a practice count for the second event, which turned out well I believe.

I didn't attempt to get any color shots of aurora with my personal camera, since the tripod has the larger Xybion imager on it. But it wouldn't have captured the beauty very well anyway. We all went home excited and tired at 2am. Hopefully the winds in Poker will have died down by tonight. This is supposed to be an optimal night tonight since at the right time, we'll have a conjunction with the Themis and Cluster satellites so it would really be a good time to launch. We'll see...

I do have new pictures though!

My banana bread I made the other night was a hit with the staff! That's Randy on the left and Milton on the right. Milton left yesterday to go back to his family in Texas and prepare to move to Anchorage. We all miss Milton... *sniff sniff*

Hans always has great stories. It's a common after dinner habit to sit around and talk and tell stories of past adventures. (Note that Star Trek in on in the background)

This is our normal "lost in thought" mode while we're waiting for news from Poker or activity in the sky. In the background is Hans' setup: the three monitors are all showing the view from his narrow fov camera on the tracking mount (which is up inside the plastic dome located in the closet to the left). He has a little joystick that moves the Az El mount to wherever (minus a tiny forbidden region). There are multiple DVD recorders set up to record the footage, and Hans also has a laptop in the dome room to do some other kind of recordings straight to the hard drive.

Here is the Kaktovik allsky and magnetometer rack. It reminds me of the main Borg lady with all those wires that fed into her head from a conduit that followed her around. Just the way the cables look coming out the back... This is the screen we stare at all the time waiting for signs of arcs and so forth.

My little station! The monitor and Hi8 recorder are linked up to the Xybion camera outside with cables through the wall. As cold as it is outside, that little camera does quite a good job. Haven't had any problems with it yet and it captures some beautiful images.

Hans had some wicked red eye in this pic, but it's a good one, so I transformed it to look old-fashioned.

Polar bear attack! He's coming through the window, run for your lives!!

1 comment:

  1. ummm, your blog ate my comment ...