Aurora of March 17th, 2019

Video 1: Here

Fortune was on my side this weekend. I had a vehicle at my disposal. I took advantage and planned a trip north of Regina to capture the deep night of Saskatchewan’s skies on the evening of Saturday March 16th, 2019. The northern lights had been presenting itself on the far northern horizon a few times and once surprisingly strong than the other nights. After last week’s weak influence of coronal mass ejection on our aurora I was ready for something better. Being so close to the day/night equality day of March 19th, I think there is some polarity/magnetic/magic (science I don’t understand yet) that makes earth seemingly “vulnerable” to displays even in weaker solar wind regimes. At any rate I knew a chance of aurora would be possible that night but would be just as happy getting deep dark starlit nightsky photos.

I invited a friend, Tara to join me on this venture north of Regina and she was ready and willing. Before we left, we visited Don’s photo and did some shopping and collating of ideas with their staff. Stopped at Southey Homestead Family Restaurant for a quick dinner and Coop gas for some snacks to take with for the long night ahead.

Long car drives are great opportunities to get some thinking done, bounce ideas on your trip partner and laugh at ridiculousness of the latest social media topics and marvel at human intelligence. Keeping a finger on the pulse of geomagnetic activity as daylight diminished and I remained hopeful to fulfil my travel’s objective, with perhaps a bonus of an aurora display.

Stopped to photograph sunset and that was about it. Arrived in Melfort to relieve nature’s calling and restock coffee at Tim Horton’s. Refueled the vehicle and hit the road. Only problem is that I was trying to navigate to Gronlid where I have seen other photographers capture an ancient religious structure. But I had missed the turn to continue on highway 6 and ended up on highway 3. When I pulled over to figure out the next move, I had noticed a glow out of my passenger Tara’s window on the north side. It was around 9:30pm CST and the aurora were brightly presenting itself and dancing. Our pull over location on the shoulder was a highly undesirable photography location not only due to the lights of oncoming traffic, but it's an unsafe place to stop without being able to pull over into an approach or ditch so we corrected navigation and drove through Melfort to exit on the north side. Sadly, it had all but vanished and when I found an approach to pull over it was gone. After a few test photos we packed up and continued to the Gronlid objective.  We were there for a while. I was stomping around in knee deep snow to get some stills from the angles I wanted. It was a beautiful night with no wind and single digit negative temperatures.

After consulting maps, I decided to take us further north across the Saskatchewan bridge as we waited for the aurora to regenerate and simultaneously gain a more northern position closer to the auroral oval. Unfortunately, the bridge over the Saskatchewan river was in a valley where seeing the northern horizon was not ideal, so I continued some 60 kilometers north of Melfort where I found a couple of farmer’s fields after driving through about 20km of treed area.

Set up tripod camp there and took some test shots and noticed aurora dancing on the horizon and a dim show of aurora competing against the bright moonlight. After a short time and taking 1 minute interval exposures for short times it was unveiled that the aurora was a tad more active than anticipated and a large band was forming about 35-45 degrees above the horizon and growing thicker. But activity was minimal.

I decided to start heading south around 1:30’ish AM to get back into the treed areas as I noticed a few opened areas I wanted as foreground. As luck would have it, I got the shots I wanted and then the aurora brightened and started rippling across the sky from west to east like electricity hopping along a powerline. It was magnificent and stormy! Bright and beautiful! Yet the night was still, winds were calm and not a sound could be heard but the clicking of our camera and sometimes the lady Tara had on the radio in the car sang and echoed in the trees. It was actually neat. It was a great feeling as we had travelled nearly 400km and even in position, waited for several hours and exercised patience. The aurora taught me that that night that when I can’t see her, she’s there, that when my patience has expired and there isn’t a grain of willpower left that just beyond that, sometimes, there is a reward.

The aurora was absolutely amazing! I had an appointment at 11am the next morning, the second reason why I wanted to start slowly making my way south, so from 1:30am until 7:30am the journey home was frequently interrupted with stops to enjoy a beautiful display of the aurora. After passing Dafoe heading south a lot of foggy areas emerged making visibility difficult. But I stopped once more 40km north of Southey to take a photo both facing north and another south. The north side showed beautiful aurora without the moon as it had set a twenty minutes earlier and the south side showed an arm of the Milky Way galaxy and the distant glow of the town of Southey which was just enough light to produce a fog bow in the near distance.

When questing for aurora, it tests my patience, it tests my persistence, it tests me. I voluntarily face relentless mosquitoes, lethal cold, less than desirable winds. Based on my best guess of someone else’s best guess of what might happen in our northern skies I failed more frequently than not when I first started on 2012. I would come home with little to show for it. As time, experience and my own learning of space weather progressed over the past 7 years, I have got pretty good at it now. I am thankful for our space weather instruments out in deep space and the minds and resources it took to put them there. Now, I am more often than not, rewarded with the beauty, color and movement of the aurora, which is a humble reminder of how special our planet is, how fortunate we are to have a shield to protect us from the sun and how life itself is a miracle. I am grateful to be alive, conscious and cognizant of how significant our home Earth truly is.