Chasing Aurora in the Yukon: Week 3

The Aurora Returns

After nearly two weeks waiting for the Full Moon to come and go, things are getting hectic again. Sunday night (12th Feb) was the first great aurora show since 31st Jan, and my first time out on location away from the house. I drove a little further up Lake Laberge and got some nice images and footage despite a few clouds. The moonrise was a surprisingly successful feature that night too.

Monday was cloudy, but Tuesday night turned out to be a cracker. After doing some shopping and having my first meal out in town, I arrived at a spot on Annie Lake Rd before it was even dark but could already see aurora going low in the north. Things started happening pretty quickly after that. I got cameras rolling and alternated between chasing the moving feast in the viewfinder and just swearing in disbelief at the vividly bright rays and curtains as they danced around in the north, east, west and overhead. What a show! It was only after a few hours of this that I got the spaceweather.com text message alerting me to the fact that there was a storm in progress.. no kidding!

If we can keep alternating clear skies and aurora storms with a cloudy night for sleep in between, then I just might be able to keep this up for a bit, but I doubt luck will run my way for long.

Moonlit Adventures

Since the moon kicked in at the start of Feb, I managed to keep busy with chopping firewood and other home (and cat) duties, and getting comfortable with driving further on snow covered roads scouting for new locations. To stop fitness levels deteriorating too much, I also managed a Sunday afternoon of skate skiing at the Mt McIntire centre which has an extensive network of cross country ski trails starting just on the edge of the city of Whitehorse. I also joined the Whitehorse Photographic Society for their monthly meeting and have now been roped in to give the presentation next month.

The Pineapple Express

Andrea and Florian have been enjoying a winter break in Hawaii while I house sit for them. But they needn't have travelled so far as it has been almost balmy.. with the 'Pineapple Express' bringing tropical Pacific Ocean warmth all the way to the Yukon. While my first week was proper Yukon cold, the last two weeks have been unseasonably mild. The locals are as surprised as I have been to see temperatures touching above zero during the day occasionally, which has not done great things for the condition of the snow. While the main 'highways' are fine, it has also made for some icy conditions on the quiet backroads. It's better to drive up hills after the grit trucks have been through I discovered.

Yannick and Sandrine are tenants of Andrea and Florian's, living in a 'hovel' on the same block here on Shallow Bay. They are French speaking and provided me with some entertaining insights on Canadian culture and politics. I also learned how popular The Cat Empire are, particularly in Quebec. John Butler also rated highly.

Soon after they moved to the Yukon, Yannick and Sandrine attempted to buy a chainsaw in the local paper and ended up with a team of sled dogs that the owner (who was heading back to France) could not find a home for. So they have developed a love of 'mushing' and seem ok with the enormous of work (and food) that looking after a team of (very large) dogs requires. They asked me to get some photos for them, which I was happy to help with. Only problem is that a team of dogs pulling a sled is hard to turn around (in fact they only really know how to run straight ahead forever), so you get one pass every ten minutes which makes for slow progress if the auto-focus doesn't hit the spot. So I bought a toboggan in town (needed for another timelapse project anyway) and so ensued a hilarious if somewhat tedious afternoon trying to get two dogs pulling the toboggan to run in front of the sled with the rest of the team behind them. While bumping along uncomfortably in the toboggan, facing backwards, I reeled off the shots as quick as I could, although it took exposures of 1/2500sec to compensate for the bumpy ride. Ideas for the next photo shoot are still being developed.

Developing the Hart Attack Vandergraph Generator

My other major project continues to be the timelapse motion control and exposure ramping system I am developing with Fred Vanderhaven in Sydney (well, Fred is developing it.. I just tell him what we need). Neither of us had the time or space to develop and test this fully before Christmas, so we are left doing it at the last minute on location. The remoteness of the helpdesk is interesting when I have to get out the soldering iron and snips.. "cut the thin yellow wire, no the other thin yellow wire" etc. And my own poor soldering skills (well, I was a little cramped for space in the box) resulted in the first casualty of the trip after I fried one of the Picaxe micro controllers late on a Friday afternoon. Although they only cost a few dollars, we couldn't get another one shipped to the Yukon till the middle of the following week. That was at least beneficial to the process of location scouting instead. The system is showing some great promise now and we are (I think) at the fine tuning stage. The control system has, perhaps appropriately, been nicknamed the 'Hart Attack Vandergraph Generator' by another friend.

With Last Quarter moon passing, there is now plenty of dark sky and the challenge is to add new and interesting foregrounds to my images and timelapse sequences. In what are isolated and remote places by any definition, the logistics of shooting on location and getting enough food and sleep along the way are my biggest challenges for the next few weeks.

My other challenge is computing power. While light and portable for travel, my laptop was always going to struggle with this project. Today I over-flowed my first 1TB drive with 68,148 files captured to date, and the laptop is not happy about processing them.

Prior to this, there was Week 1.

Comments

Aurora Chasing whilst Swearing in DisBelief

I can just imagine you swearing ever so politley at the awesomeness of whats on display. A charming image. And I am beginning to grasp how busy you must be (and tired) by the fact that you are actually wishing/hoping/asking for cloudy nights just so you can recover! Its Vintage for the Night Sky Photographer.....Awesome pics yet again, and great to see some daylight images of where you are and the cool doggies, and are there really people out there?! Hope you get just the right amount of cloudy nights to keep the non-cloudy ones photographed : ) We are well, getting prepared for harvest, which will probably be about 2-3 weeks away with some spankingly good sparkling base.....will miss your help : (

Beautiful aurora pics

Brilliant and beautiful pics. I especially like the allsky one and the one where the aurora looks like it's smoke coming out of a mountain!

Keep em coming!
--gd