The Lady Aurora is a fickle mistress. A tease. A scamp. A vixen. She definitely has a mind of her own. Two nights ago the data didn’t look overly promising and I quickly put to bed any thoughts of her appearance. It was only as I shut up the house for the night, and as is my practice, looking out the window to the North that I realized – there she was! On with the jeans, gear in hand, I raced out the door. She put on a lovely show, perhaps made more entrancing by the surprise of it. I knew predictions were looking particularly good for two days hence so I began to think perhaps the show had just arrived early. As always after a late night shooting, I had a pretty good Aurora hangover the next day. I was made even more tired by the fact that when I arrived home from my shoot at 1:15am, my little cat (I’m still not speaking to her) decided she wanted to go for a walk-about and managed to bolt between my legs and the tripod I was carrying as I entered my home. The little minx didn’t arrive back on my doorstep till near 3am. No sleep can be had with her on the lam so I was really looking forward to my bed the next night.
My fear-of-missing-out is too strong, so the next night I started looking out the window on a regular basis and yup, there she was again. Just a bright green band across the sky. Not a great subject – I have taken hundreds of photos of the same green band over the years. I recognized that as her resting phase with the possibility she will either build up to something great or I had already missed the dance and she was done. Again, gear was grabbed and out the door. Tiredness sloughs off as the adrenaline kicks in. As I was going out the door I noticed the slim crescent moon was readying to set for the night near the horizon. Since the lady wasn’t making too much of a move, I decided to head to where I might get a nice shot of the crescent on my way to bigger and, hopefully, better things. I parked the car and as I emerged from the drivers seat, I noticed Phenomenal S.T.E.V.E. had paid a visit to the moon.
How could I be so lucky! Steve is not a common sight in the night sky, especially as far north as I am located. He generally likes to hang around the more southern end of the province. Unlike the Aurora Borealis, he poses in place with only subtle changes for upwards of an hour or more. He is also more of a challenge to capture on camera due his extremely ephemeral presence. It is like photographing a ghost (or so I can imagine). He can be seen clearly with the naked eye, quite bold in fact – there is no missing him or mistaking him for anything else. Yet the aurora is far easier to capture, strangely enough it can be more difficult to see with the eye and easier to see with the camera. After many shots of STEVE, I was off to my regular site to see if the Aurora would take off. After a wait, she did…for but a brief time. STEVE also brightened again, engaging in pole-dancing with the telephone pole in my foreground! By 2am, the adrenaline was wearing off, the lady kept winking in and out – teasing and exhausting both my resolve and my patience. The temperatures had dropped and my body was shivering from equal measures of tiredness and the chill. Home I went, grateful once again that my job didn’t start until noon.
Two days in a row is almost unheard of…not that she won’t dance two days – when the sun is active she dances often. The miracle is that our weather cooperated two days in a row. Many a night I see the data and look out the window only to be denied by cloud or worse. Too many times to count. So when the sky is clear and she appears I have learned you deny her your audience at your peril.
Three times the charm? It can happen. I won’t lie though…after 2 very late nights I almost wish clouds to appear so I can just sleep and not worry about missing out. I have a friend and her children eager to watch a good show and on this Friday night, with the promise of an actual Aurora G1 (KP5) storm I had my fingers crossed for us all. Data had peaked while it was still daylight (darn these long spring and summer evenings of the north!) and we were all poised to go out as soon as it was dark. Not together…darn COVID…but connected by cellphone. It was nice enough in the early evening that we lit our first backyard fire pit of the season – no beverages, because driving might later be involved. My husband wanted to come along for the chase this night as it held so much promise to be spectacular. I watched, I waited. The data looked amazing. All the boxes were checked for a brilliant show. All we needed was the dark. As the darkness swallowed the twilight, spires could finally be seen. I had scouted what I thought would be a new good site for shooting and we had more than enough time to check it out. We drove down the road, schlepped the gear out of the van, set up, and hoped for the best. Yup, she was out and it was getting darker by the minute! My friends were out and waiting at their spot. Anticipation mounted. While I had appreciated the ease of access of my new site, just off the highway, I had not accounted for the amount of traffic creating light pollution and noise. This new place was a bust. So I broke down the gear, was back in the van, and off to greener pastures – quite literally!
The Lady chose a dance that was less like her usual ballet and more of a modern interpretive dance…the kind where you are left wondering what the heck is going on. There was no shimmering brilliance or bold shapes – a disappointment to the eye. Only the camera and my experienced eye could really see what was going on. Directly overhead was an amazing river of light – long ribbons of greyish green flowing seemingly from the direction of the moon, still a slim crescent. Looking north, she was there making a “smoke” ring in the sky. She didn’t stay out for long. My friends were disappointed and heading for bed. I tried to be enthusiastic and hopeful, but the sad truth was my husband was cold and sitting in the running van and I was behind the camera clearly being denied in spite of the amazing data. I packed up and headed for home. It was 11pm. When we brought the gear into the house my husband inquired if I might be going back out. This was code for “did I want a beverage?”. I did, but I couldn’t help think the Lady was going to bounce back for the “real” show that was expected. The data still looked good and there was no real reason (in my mind) why she wasn’t filling the skies with her glory. I was tired and more than ready to give up until, just after midnight, I looked out my back door and there she was. I was back in my jeans, grabbing the camera, but, since I had indeed imbibed, was relegated to my own property. And dance she did! She danced wild and abandoned but for a brief time. I was saddened that I couldn’t chase to a more unobscured horizon but heartened that my rural hamlet living allowed me to see it from my own backyard. As it turned out, I would have not been afforded the time to drive even the few minutes to my usual venue. I carried my gear to the schoolyard only a block away but she was done. Just a vague green fog where she was once bold and beautiful. My location is truly a blessing, I knew many other chasers had driven hours to get their site away from city lights only to wait and hope. There was no going back to their house to relax in-between dances. Just a cold evening spent in their cars holding hope.
Perhaps, not unlike myself, Lady Aurora was tired after her two previous nights of entertaining the heavens. As Forrest Gump once famously said “life is like a box of chocolates…”, the same could be said of the lady Aurora. You never know what you’re going to get. Bad space data, great show. Great space data, bad show. Great space data, spectacular show. So if the skies are clear and the greens appear – I’m there. Aurora chasing is very much like life…you just have to show up – good days, bad days, and very bad days – it’s the spectacular days that keep you moving forward. So tonight, should there be a fourth night of dance, I’ll be there, batteries charged!
Now for a nap…zzz