David Barthel - North Shore Images PhotographyDavid Barthel North Shore Images Photography
David Barthel

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Summer Aurora Borealis

It's been some time since I last posted here as summer art festivals have kept me quite busy. I have been fortunate to meet a number of wonderful people over the past several weeks, some of whom are now readers of this photo journal. Thank you and welcome! I look forward to sharing my photographic journey with you.

It was during the weekend of the Grand Marais Art Festival in mid-July that something wonderful happened. A few days prior to the festival, the sun unleashed a powerful coronal mass ejection directed toward Earth. The consequence was a potential for a nice display of northern lights that Saturday night.

I had seen aurora borealis only twice in my life prior to this occasion and neither were great displays, so I was really excited to be in far-northern Minnesota for a potentially-stunning auroral spectacle. So, Saturday evening, after sunset, I drove inland from Grand Marais to a location along the Cascade River just a couple of miles south of the BWCA wilderness. Being a lifelong suburban dweller, my journey to this location seemed to nearly stretch the boundaries of what I consider "the middle of nowhere." As the sky fully darkened, the faint light of the aurora became visible and a bow in the northern sky. It was a pleasure to see, but it was far from extraordinary. With little more to see and thoughts of a long day Sunday with the art festival, subsequent tear down, and a five-hour drive home, I decided I would depart at midnight.

Suddenly, at about 11:58 pm, the sky exploded with northern lights with an intensity and shapes unlike I had ever seen. They were everywhere in the northern sky and even directly overhead. The lights were bright enough to slightly illuminate the landscape around me. Needless to say, I abandoned my midnight departure plans and put extra effort into capturing this amazing display. The lights danced and flickered long after I finally left this spot at 1:00 am in seek of a few hours well-needed sleep.

I often find it a treat if I can include more than one level of interest in my photographs. Here, I included the Big Dipper (part of the constellation Ursa Major) with the aurora display.

There were few red hues in the Aurora that night, but the blues made an appearance.


Overall, it was a wonderful couple of hours as a spectator of the northern sky. I wish I could have stayed out all night and enjoyed the auroral display. As with many of life's joys, it is both exquisite and ephemeral.

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