Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) Gallery

Shoestring Astronomy by Doug Anderson


Photographing aurora is very simple and inexpensive. A simple film camera that has a B (bulb stop) setting for the shutter, a wide angle lens, a cable release, and a tripod are all that are needed. The difficulty is that aurora are not a common occurence, at least at my latitude, so the opportunities are limited. But, the results can be some of the most beautiful astrophotographs in your collection. Here are the better results from the few chances I have had.

Aurora2.wmv (725 kbytes) Aurora Movie from 12/14/06 - We had a nice little show on 12/14/06. I had been waiting for a chance to do a time lapse movie of aurora, and here it was. I set up my Canon Digital Rebel XT on a tripod, and took 15 second exposures at ISO800 continuously for about 13 minutes Using Windows Movie Maker, I stitched them together into this 6 second movie. You can definitely see how dynamic the northern lights are from this!


aurora1.jpg (28 kbytes) Aurora on 2/26/03 - I was headed out this evening to do some other photography, when I noticed the faint glow on the northern horizon.  With the eye, there was not that much to see, and the colors were not evident.  In this 20 second exposure on 400 speed film, more detail comes out.  You can see the stars of Draco's head in the background behind the tree. This was the first attempt I had ever made to capture the Northern Lights on film.

On October 29, 2003, one of the largest coronal mass ejections ever recorded shot a stream of charged particles out of our Sun headed straigh at the Earth. The auroral display that night was the second best I had ever seen from my modest mid-latitude location, and the best one I had ever had the chance to photograph. For most of the night, the entire northern sky was aglow with a green-white haze. Several times during the night, there were displays of red, and some animated displays that shimmered and blinked. Much of the time, the display extended past zenith and on to the south. On this night, the Northern Lights were seen as far south as Florida. Here are a few of the photos I took that night:
aurora_031029_bdipper.jpg (803 kbytes) Aurora on 10/29/03 - I like this shot a lot. It clearly shows the Big Dipper in the lower background, the Little Dipper toward the top, and a section of Draco winding in between. The trees frame the whole thing nicely and bring you back down to earth. You can make out the red and green shades of the aurora. The streaks in the lower right are a few thin clouds. If only I had remembered about the power lines above my head! This is a 30 second exposure with Kodak Elite Chrome 400, with a 28mm lens at f/2.8.
aurora_031029_ldipper.jpg (46 kbytes) Aurora on 10/29/03 - Here you can see some of the rare pinkish shades that sometimes come with auroral displays, and once again that pesky power line. Polaris (the North Star) and the Little Dipper appears in the background. Exposure is the same as above.
aurora_031029_perseus.jpg (689 kbytes) Aurora on 10/29/03 - Even though there is only the green shade of aurora, this picture shows some of the streamer and curtain features. The constellation of Perseus is clearly visible. The top of Auriga, with the bright star Capella, is just clearing the low clouds on the northeast horizon. The bright streaks near the bottom are headlights and taillights from cars passing on the highway nearby. This time, no power lines, but I did catch the corner of the observatory. Exposure is the same as above.
aurora_1.jpg (52 kbytes) Aurora on 10/29/03 - Later that night, around 10:30PM, the aurora flared up again. Exposure is the same as above.
aurora_2.jpg (54 kbytes) Aurora on 10/29/03 - Another image from the later activity. Exposure is the same as above.
aurora_3.jpg (34 kbytes) Aurora on 10/29/03 - And one more from the 10:30PM session. Exposure is the same as above.

On November 20, 2003, there was another nice auroral display, but nothing as dramatic as the night of October 29th. This was a strange display that consisted of a dull glow to the north, and one colorful column to the south that persisted for over an hour and a half.
aurora_031120_1.jpg (31 kbytes) Aurora on 11/20/03 - The brightest 'star' behind this aurora is actually Mars! This is a 40 second exposure with Kodak Elite Chrome 400, with a 28mm lens at f/2.8.
aurora_031120_2.jpg (56 kbytes) Aurora on 11/20/03 - Same exposure parameters as above.