Tag Archives: aurora
… this is an even better view of the Aurora than I have in Fairbanks.
I do realize that some people find the long summer days of Interior Alaska difficult to deal with. I am not one of those people; I absolutely revel in them. Arguably, the land of the midnight sun has the best summers and we have no shortage of activities to fill the many sunlit hours.
Officially, spring has arrived, but winter is not giving up just yet. Atqasuk on Alaska’s North Slope saw -53F on Sunday morning. The Interior was considerably warmer with Denali Park at -27F, Fort Yukon -13F and Fairbanks a balmy -8F.
As the graphic above illustrates, Alaska and Canada have had a string of amazing northern lights viewing. Even with the waxing moon, the aurora has been dominating the northern skies of late, putting on some impressive shows.
The powerful lure of the aurora borealis:
After a year of planning, three photographers came to Fairbanks to attempt something never accomplished. They would try to “capture cinema-quality footage of the northern lights” from the stratosphere.
The new film from Lost Horizon Creative, documents the team’s efforts to overcome not only the technical aspects of filming above 100,000 feet, but also the incredible vastness that is Interior Alaska. The 30 minute short film is well worth viewing if you are even remotely into the aurora borealis, Alaska or photography.
The trailer for the film is above, the entire film can also be viewed on youtube.
There is a Geomagnetic Storm Watch in place for December 9-11. A coronal mass ejection (CME) happened on December 7, and that explosion of energy is headed our way.
The aurora should put on quite a show over the next few nights for those of us in viewing range and with clear skies.
Fairbanks, which is usually dead center of aurora viewing, is actually on the northern end of the spectrum. Looking south for the northern lights!
Map credit: University of Alaska Geophysical Institute
Summer. The residents of Interior Alaska live for Alaskan summers. The difference from winter to summer is extreme.
The Aurora viewing season officially came to an end on Sunday. We have too much daylight, and will not have a chance to see the Northern Lights for 91 days.
On May 15th, Fairbanks went into our summer period of civil twilight. We have enough natural light to partake in outdoor activities 24/7.
May 18th is the average date for the final freeze of the spring months in Fairbanks.
From May 29th, until July 14th, the sun will set after midnight.
The Summer Solstice, Fairbanks’ favorite day, is on June 20th.
Night in Fairbanks will turn dark again on September 4th. A sad day indeed.
NASA and the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute teamed up with some scientists from Virginia Tech University to launch a sounding rocket over the weekend at the Poker Flat Research Range.
The Polar Night Nitric Oxide (PolarNOx) experiment saw a hang fire on the first night of their launch window, but the rocket was launched successfully on the second night.
The aurora borealis adds nitric oxide to the polar atmosphere, and levels increase in the winter months, but then dissipate in the summer months, with the increase of sunlight. Nitric oxide will destroy ozone under certain conditions. The sounding rocket was launched to collect data to better understand the build up of nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide exists between 53 – 93 miles altitude, with its peak concentration between 62 – 68 miles altitude. The sounding rocket rose to an apex of 161 miles above the earth’s surface, before coming back down to our very frozen Interior.
For those who were up in the early morning hours to witness the launch, the rocket was seen from all over the area. I had planned on being out there, but I was forced to make a quick run to the border instead. At least I saw a lot of caribou.
The fine folks out at Poker Flat Research Range have announced future launch windows. The first one opens on 26 January. Poker Flat does stream the launches of their sounding rockets online. One can receive launch updates by following the instructions above.
PFRR also has their nightly All-Sky Camera, which is very sensitive to the aurora. You can find their camera here:
The Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska – Fairbanks has an aurora forecast, which is regularly updated. The link to that is here:
It’s that time of year again. The aurora forecast from UAF’s Geophysical Institute is up and running again. A moderate aurora is being forecast for Thursday, with it being visible directly overhead for Fairbanks, weather permitting.
In Canada, Dawson City, Fort Nelson and Fort McMurray will find the northern lights directly overhead, assuming cloud cover doesn’t obscure viewing.
The aurora will be low on the horizon for Marquette, Michigan and Sundsvall, Sweden.
An equal, but opposite aurora will be taking place in the Southern Hemisphere, as well.
The Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks puts out their geomagnetic forecast daily.
All images credit: UAF Geophysical Institute
The Poker Flat Research Range had its 50th Anniversary party over the weekend, and Fairbanks residents showed up in droves to celebrate. I think it is safe to say that Fairbanks is quite proud of its far-north launch facility. I was amazed at how many people came out for the event.
Owned by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, Poker Flat is the world’s largest land-based rocket range. The 5132 acre site is located 30 miles from Fairbanks, just north of Chatanika, on the Steese Highway, where Poker Creek flows into the Chatanika River.
More than 300 major, high altitude rockets and 1800 meteorological rockets have been launched from Poker Flat to study the Earth’s atmosphere, and the interaction between that atmosphere and the space environment. The rockets launched are sounding rockets, which are designed to operate between the height that a weather ballon can reach, yet below satellites. Sounding rockets are relatively low cost, with a quick lead time, which is advantageous in the world of research.
NASA, Wallops Flight Facility, the Department of Defense, and many universities world-wide, have launched rockets from Poker Flat.
One busy week at Poker Flat had four launches in 33 minutes during a night with high aurora activity. One mission saw two rockets launched to measure the turbulence in the upper atmosphere: was it two dimensional or three? Also measured were air density along the rocket’s parabola, which had an apex of 100 miles above northern Alaska. Also measured was the lowest reaches of where the aurora interacts with the upper atmosphere.
On the same night, two rockets from Clemson University launched. These rockets released a white vapor, trimethyl aluminum, so that researchers could visualize the turbulence 60 miles above the ground.
Not to be outdone, two nights later, a rocket launched for Utah State that released instruments to measure the voltages and currents in the aurora display over Kaktovik, Alaska.
I’m glad I arrived early, because I think turn out was greater than expected. After visiting the main offices, I walked down to where the shuttle busses were hauling people to the various sites. Poker Flat is fairly spread out, plus there was a cow moose and a calf wandering about, and officials seemed wary that someone could get stomped. Weather balloons were launched every 15 minutes or so, which I watched while waiting for a shuttle. Turns out there is an advantage to attending things like this solo. A University police officer offered rides to the upper facilities, and he had room for three. The first couple climbed in, and I seemed to be the only single paying attention, so I volunteered to climb in the back of the squad SUV.
The facility is really quite impressive. I was able to talk to several NASA scientists, as well as some Poker Flat “rocketeers”. Everything was available to view, from the radar screens to the “catwalk” outside, and the green lidar beam, which is part laser and part radar, and is shot 50 miles into the sky. There wasn’t one person involved with the sounding rockets, that didn’t get excited talking about what they did, or what they had planned for next year. The representative from Wallops told me they were excited now to get down under to Australia to launch rockets next. It will be their winter soon, and they had some rockets designed that would open in the back with telescopes to get images of the southern sky.
One thing about the aurora borealis that is not widely known, is that, due to the Earth’s magnetic field, what we see here in the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere sees the mirror image of. I have always found that fascinating.*
The earliest written record of an auroral display was from 567 BC on a Babylonian clay tablet. The tablet describes a “red glow in the sky” lasting two hours. The red aurora was often thought of as an evil omen in medieval times. Nearly all northern native cultures associate the aurora with spirits of the dead.
Some statistics from PFRR:
First launch: March 1969
Heaviest rocket: Aries – 11 tons
Longest rocket: Black Brant XII – 85 feet
Heaviest payload: 2200 pounds
Highest altitude flown: 930 miles
Distance downrange: 1100 miles
Rocket acceleration: 17 Gs
Rocket speed: Mach 2
The peak season for launches at Poker Flat is between January and March. Most often launches occur when the aurora is going, and the moon is down. Cleary Summit is a great place to watch and/or film a rocket launch. Poker Flat also streams launches live on its youtube channel.
*See: Rockets Over Alaska: The Genesis of Poker Flat by Neil Davis