Aurora Borealis January 25 Calgary, 2012
By Dr. Robert Berdan
January 25, 2012
On January 24, I received several aurora alerts that there was an explosion on the sun releasing a solar flare from near sunspot 1402 and there was a good chance of seeing the aurora the next day. The flare was classified as an M9 Flare and was supposed to be one of the largest flares in the past 6 years. For aurora hunters and photographers this was exciting news. A few days earliers, on January 19th there was an M3 Class flare that was predicted to hit the earth on Saturday and Sunday January 21 and 22. (Solar Flares are classified by their strength as A, B, C, M and X each one being 10X greater then the former and X class flares have the potential to damage satellites and power transformers). The M3 Class flare on Sunday evening was a bust as there was heavy cloud cover over Calgary and the surrounding area. On Tuesday, Jan 25 we had cloud cover up to about 11:30 pm and then it started to clear. I drove down some country roads east and west of Airdrie trying to avoid city lights and find a good location from which to photograph the aurora. I was accompanied by fellow photographer George Brybycin who still shoots with a 20 year old Pentax film camera using Velvia slide film. We sat for several hours waiting and looking. At about 12:15 we saw a faint auroral band in the northwest. The band slowly got brighter and we saw a few rays beginning to form, but it never really took off. In fact George never took a single photo. I was shooting with a Canon Mark II with a 24 mm F1.4 lens at ISO 800 and was able to capture a few images at 10-20 seconds shown below.
Aurora east of Airdrie at 12:30 pm - it formed 2 faint bands in the north
Around 1:00 am I drove into a small coulee north of Calgary.
Panorama produced from 2 pictures stitched together (Click here to view larger picture)
Aurora over farmers field formed a diffuse band in the north
After a disappointing weekend with heavy cloud cover it was exciting to just see the aurora, but after photographing the Aurora in Yellowknife this past Autumn, (see articles and galleries below) the Aurora associated with this M9 class flare was a disappointment. I have photographed more intense Aurora around Calgary and my hope is I will have more opportunities in the future. This year and next we are approaching what astronomers call the Solar Max, a time when there is the maximum number of sun spots visible. As the number of sunspots increases so does the occurrence of solar flares and auroral activity. June 13, 2013 is the date NASA predicts will be the solar max.
Source NASA - solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/predict.shtml
I will be heading to Yellowknife this coming August\September to shoot the Aurora again and my expectations are high. However, no matter how good the Aurora might turn out to be one also needs clear dark skies.
As I headed home at 2:00 am last night on Lochend road I passed a group of aurora photographers and stopped to say hello. It was nice to see that more photographers were out taking an interest in the night sky. RB
Calgary Herald Electronic Version Jan 25, 2012 published 9 out 10 Aurora photos by R. Berdan