Tag Archives: northern lights

Walking Poker Flat

Entrance to Poker Flat Research Range

It’s early August and people were starting to think “white stuff”. I had three jobs lined up, everyone desperate for me to start, yet not one of them was ready for me. What to do with the day off?

As luck would have it, Poker Flat Research Range had one of their summer walking tours that day, so I drove the 25 miles out to Chatanika.

“The Blockhouse” or bunker

PFRR is the world’s largest land-based rocket range. The facility is owned by the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. They launch sounding rockets from the range, in order to study the Earth’s atmosphere and the interaction between the atmosphere and the space environment.

Space junk returned to Earth

Study ranges from the Earth’s magnetic field to the aurora. NASA is prominent at the range, but researchers come from all over the world. All of the rockets launched from PFRR return to the Earth’s surface, and the range collects the spent payloads every summer. There is a reward paid out to anyone finding material from Poker Flat.

Poker Flat Launch Pad

The building above is open on the far end. The interior of the building, and the actual launch pad, was off limits to photography. It’s a NASA rule that doesn’t thrill UAF apparently, but we all honored the rule. The sounding rocket is brought in on what is basically an open trailer. The rocket is loaded onto the launcher, which looks like a giant erector set with a large pivot. The building itself is sitting on a pair of tracks. When ready to begin countdown, the building is pulled back away from the pad, and the rocket is spun vertical with the large erector set pivot.

Mission Control

The control center was surprisingly manual in operation. Scientists are extremely fussy about launch conditions, and they often pull the plug with one second to go. An automatic system does not give the flexibility that is needed, so there is still a “launch button”.

Power central

That doesn’t mean there is a shortage of cable, wires, or connectors.

The touring rocket

PFRR does a good job with the tour. It’s pretty relaxed, and a nice way to spend some time outdoors, for the most part, in an Interior Alaska summer. After the tour, don’t forget to stop by the Chatanika Lodge, which is just down the highway.

A Noir Life

Comic credit: Jamie Smith & Nuggets

Eight Hours

Sunset near Manley

We went over 8 hours of daylight today. I’m sure that isn’t worth noting in the Lower 48, but in Interior Alaska it is worthy of a celebration. The fact that temps have been in the 20’s of late, only adds to the spring fever currently in the air.

I’ve heard, “Winter is almost over” a few times over the past couple of days, and the words chilled my bones. “What are you trying to do… curse us?” I asked in dismay. March is generally a beautiful month up here. The days are longer, the temps are usually higher, the aurora lights up our skies, and there are so many activities around town to get lost in.

With all that said, after a long northern winter, few things are harder on one’s mental state than a mean streak of minus forty to minus fifty degree weather in March. I’ve been through it, and it’s a cruel twist of the dagger.

Full Wolf Moon

Aurora and Moon

The return of the full moon has also brought with it the return of -45 degree air. On the plus side, the aurora also returned last night to absolutely fill the sky over Interior Alaska. It was a brilliant display, in spite of the glowing moon.

When I returned home from the hockey game last night, I just stood out in the drive and took in the shimmering curtains of light, as they flowed across the sky. It was an impressive show.

“Extreme Aurora Viewing”

That’s what ‘They’ are calling it: Extreme. Sounds intense. I wonder if I have ever experienced an “extreme” aurora. Maybe what I’ve been seeing all these years has only been rated at average. This could be mind blowing, life altering.

Too bad it’s overcast and raining.