The last two nights we have seen the most spectacular showing of the Northern Lights. One word: amazing.
We have seen the lights several times before, but this was full-sky, hot-green, no-words cool. There is a huge open basin about five minutes from our new apartment, and it is the new go-to place for us to watch the sky. We park in a small turn off and then follow snow machine tracks out into the sparse black spruce woods. Even though we are only a few minutes from the road, it feels like we are watching the lights alone. Us and the lights. I can’t say cool enough times. So, so cool.
Each day before my husband leaves for work, as I am still sleepy-eyed, he gives me the morning updates. He tells me what is on the news, what is happening in the world of sports, other tidbits of information, and, most importantly, what the Geophysical Institute’s aurora forecast is for the day. Translation: will we be able to see the Northern Lights tonight?
On Monday, the forecast was a four, moderate. But this is good. Normally, the forecast moves between one and two, so we have a policy to get outside and look if it is three or above. The scale is 1-10. That night we bundled up, packed a thermos of hot chocolate (my new winter go-to), and drove to Chena Lakes Recreation Area, the closest place to get a good view of the lights.
After about 15 minutes, we could see the lights forming on the horizon and from there it only got better. One of my favorite parts about the Northern Lights are how they change. They move across the sky, shifting both in shape and intensity of color.
This is the third time we have seen the lights since arriving in Alaska and each time I get caught up in their spell. It’s almost magical, like a little wizard is standing someplace out in the snow painting his wand across the sky, green waves of pixie dust.
My husband is our Northern Lights photographer. I am more of a point-and-shoot kind of girl. To me, composition is important, landscapes, people, animals, etc. I am interested in how they fit in the window of the shot, but when I get down to the business of actually taking the picture, I want the camera to do the work. So it is a good thing Lucas likes to play around with the settings and read the instructions. He is mastering the night shot.
This also has two additional advantages for me: I can hop in the car to warm up more often (it’s still cold here!), and I get to just look. There is something special about just taking it all in. Alaska continues to make me marvel at the natural world.
One of the things on our Alaskan bucket list was to see the northern lights. During our first few weeks, we saw them once, faintly. And we decided to wait deeper into the season before we tried again in earnest. The colder and darker it gets here, the better the lights are. I have been trying to be patient, which is hard when the place we just moved from (Marquette, MI) gets a spectacular display that was so good it ended up on the National Geographic website. I was seriously jealous. I moved to Alaska, home of the northern lights in the USA, and I had yet to see a take-your-breath-away sky of lights. But, we were determined to make it happen in our last eight weeks (hard to believe that is all the time we have left in Alaska!).
So this weekend we were on the hunt again. We went out three nights in a row. Temperatures here have really dipped, with the highs in the teens and the lows well below zero, so we bundled up, packed a camera, and drove to Chena Lakes Recreation Area (the best place to view the lights near North Pole). The first night, the stars were beautiful. The big dipper is always easy to spot, and the sky is so clear here you can see the band of stars that make up the Milky Way. But no northern lights. The second night it was cloudy. Major bummer. But last night, Halloween, we got our first good look at Alaskan Northern Lights!
Our lights were green, and arched across the sky like an extra wide rainbow. What surprised me was how often they shift, move, brighten, and disappear. The lights are constantly in motion. Our view was always changing. When we first arrived, they were concentrated at the base, just above the tree line, fanning out into thick waves. Later, during my favorite shift of the evening, one streak brightened Kermit-the-Frog-green, and buckled in rolling waves across the sky (see picture above). It looked a little like florescent paint drawn in a squiggle line. We watched the lights for about 45 minutes. Half the time in the car (still running) and half out. It was too cold to stay out the whole time so we would jump out, look at the stars and the lights, take pictures, then get back in the car to warm up. I could have stayed all night. But, unfortunately, Lucas had to be at work early this morning, so we had to pack up and come home. To our surprise, the lights were so vivid last night, even when we got home we could see them from our front yard. The last view before we went inside was like seeing a green genie coming out of a bottle, a puff of swirling smoke. I am now impressed. And I can’t wait to see them again.
*Lucas is hard at work figuring out how to best capture the lights with his camera. Hopefully, we will have more pictures soon as we continue to chase the lights this winter!