Home of the Northern Lights

Jan Curtis
2571 NW 3rd Terrace
Gresham, OR 97030

These images are intended for non-commercial, educational uses and are
copyrighted (2001, Jan Curtis). To my 2001 images.

To my Original Collection...1995-1997
To my 1998 images.
To my 1999 images.
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Twilight Curtain

Red over Green



I have received many questions 1, 2 concerning the best place and time of year to view the Northern Lights.

Best viewed: between Fairbanks and Barrow Alaska. Mayo and Faro, Yukon north of Whitehorse is also ideally situated for great viewing. However, because of logistics, it is a lot easier visiting (and viewing) from Fairbanks than sites further north and east.

Seasonal Cloudiness: should be taken into consideration which decreases from a maximum in mid-August to a minimum in winter. However, with clearer skies comes extremely cold temperatures (-30°F to -50°F).

The aurora is most frequent: during the equinoxes (22 September, 22 March). However, it can be seen to some extent almost every night at high latitudes (north of 60°N).

The 11-year sunspot cycle (which will be at maximum in 2000-2001) determines the magnitude of each display. By now, occurrences of the northern (southern) lights will be the most frequent and intense.

Fairbanks located near 65°N latitude means that strong all night twilight will interfere with viewing from late April to mid August.

My favorite time to view the aurora is in late August when a soft twilight is still visible all night, the temperatures are pleasant, and the bugs are minimal (however, cloud cover could be a major problem).

For more information on the northern lights, check out AURORA. For general photographic guidelines, or try this and this site. Photo problems and general cold weather photography links provide essential things to know when traveling to the north country.

As for the best place around Fairbanks to view the aurora, I recommend:

"taking the Parks Highway towards Anchorage and pulling just off the road on to a spur road that leads to the town of Ester (5 minutes outside of western Fairbanks). One can continue driving for another 10 miles on the Parks Highway where there are several parking overlook pullouts which offer excellent views to the north and south. The road is usually maintained and the drive shouldn't be any challenge. Another place to consider is a trip up Ester Dome Road (off Sheep Creek Road) just northwest of the university (about 5 miles away). I'd go there in the daylight to check conditions because it is dark (unlit) at night. The view on top is great with several pullouts and views to the north and south. Finally, the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks to the town of Fox offers several good views of dark skies to the north. The drive is about 15 minutes from Fairbanks proper. At the university (west ridge), there are several x-country ski trails that open to a large field that is worth visiting in the day and perhaps at night."

The following images were taken into Photoshop and "cleaned up". That means only dust and scratch removal and some color balance and contrast adjustments were made. None of these involve any more digital darkroom finesse than that. I've tried to represent the original prints as faithfully as possible.

Inspired from my photography work below, Canadian Artist, Glen Scrimshaw painted the following images of the Northern Lights

The Traveller
Standing Tall

Santa's Team
River Dance
Silent Witness



As the aurora observing season comes to an end over high latitudes, capturing the aurora in twilight is common. Below are images taken on the evening of 8 April, 2001 using Superia 800 with 5 to 7 sec exposures (f/2.0, 35 mm lens). The rising full moon added color to the display.

  • partial corona...9 April (06:40UT) just seconds apart
  • partial corona...06:41UT looking overhead
  • curtain with rays...06:50UT and 06:55UT
  • opposite sky views...07:00UT looking nw (in twilight) and se (at moonrise)
  • aurora & city lit clouds...07:05UT seconds apart
  • band change over time...06:45UT (north) and 07:25UT (northwest)
  • Climax...07:30UT

    The great red aurora displays are the rarest over Alaska. The full formed corona is the rarest formation. When the two events coincide, well, just see for yourself. Photos taken at 10-10:30PM AST, 30 March, and 11:45PM-11:55PM, 31 March, 2001 with similar setting as noted below exception noted. For a view 300 miles to the south, see Dennis Anderson's photos.

  • red corona...taken 31 March, at 7:00UT
  • negative scan (1)...to bring out truer detail and colors, negative scan (2)
  • red-green rays...all shots pointed due south, negative scan
  • converging rays...moonlight shot 5 secs, negative scan left, negative scan right
  • colors in transition, negative scan (1), (2)
  • rays and clouds
  • ray fill curtain...taken 1 April, at 8:50UT
  • ray fill curtain...solar wind at 800 km/sec

    SOLAR MAX has arrived! Between 20 and 24 March, 2001, There were 3 major aurora storms visible over Alaska under clear and very cold skies (-25°F). The following set of pictures were taken on the 24th, with my Nikon FM-2, Nikkor 35mm f/1.4, using Kodak's Supra 800 print film. Because of the rapidly changing conditions, I have no idea what many of the exposure times were, but after seeing these images, you may forgive my lapse of memory since my eyes were focused on the heavens above.

  • Sky Brightness...All-Sky Camera Pixel Count for 20 March, 23 March, and 24 March shows lots of aurora that arrived in separate sub-storms. Poker Flat is about 30 miles NE of Fairbanks.

  • twilight... (a great night of observing is indicated)
  • curtain...top of the rayed filled curtain looked blue to me
  • drifting band... with Jupiter and the 7-Sisters star cluster
  • substorm beginning...Astronomy Picture of the Day 29 March 2001, negative scan
  • substorm subsiding...Presented to Alaska's US Senator (April 2001), negative scan (1), (2)
  • substorm... beginning and middle phase, negative scan
  • substorm... middle and end phase, negative scan
  • weak full conora
  • rayed filled curtain, negative scan
  • corona substorm... begins
  • corona substorm... max's out
  • corona substorm... weakens, negative scan

    More images of the 20 and 23 March, 2001 storms show the variety of forms that accompany every display. On the 20th, I captured three separate corona taken within 5 minutes of one another. On the 23rd, a west surge sequence was taken over a one minute period while bands and rays dominated the skies until midnight. Film: Supra 800. Corona taken at f/2 @ 7 secs, at half second separation.

  • west surge...on 23 March
  • west surge...1 minute later
  • banded rays...I didn't noticed the power lines at the time
  • bright bands...yes the red was definitely seen
  • bright bands, negative scan
  • bright band...At -10F, time to quit for the night

  • corona with house lights...on 20 March
  • corona changes
  • corona changes
  • corona changes, negative scan
  • next corona...3 minutes later
  • corona changes
  • next corona...2 minutes later
  • corona changes

    On 20 March, 2001, I observed a major aurora storm. Photographing rapidly moving and changing brightness is a challenge but I managed a couple of interesting shots with Superia 800 and Supra 800. Some of the following .jpeg's are uncompressed (~200kb).

  • what a difference a few minutes makes!...at 05:45 & 06:05 UT
  • red over green...at 06:00 & 06:03 UT, negative scan
  • converging rays...at 06:06 & 06:07 UT
  • fading activity...at 06:10 & 06:23 UT (purple is reflected sunlight)
  • fading activity...at 06:12 & 06:28 UT
  • band and rays...after 07:00UT
  • band and rays...after 07:00UT
  • corona...after 07:30UT (Bottom image shows two satellite streaks); reoccurring problem

    Aurora activity was mild between the 3rd and 5th of March, 2001 but I managed to capture a couple of colorful images using Fuji Superia 800 @ f/2.0 between 5 and 15 secs.

  • patchy bands
  • patches
  • band...under moonlight

    I am always interested in new film and I decided to try out Fuji's Superia 800 (print film) although Fuji is usually biased in green color. On 20 January and 13 February, the end of one substorm and the entire evolution of another was captured. I judge this film to have good color balance, density, and fine graininess. Check these images out and you decide. All images used 35 mm lens at f/2.0

  • bands...12 secs (01/20/01).
  • bands...15 secs (note the Big Dipper and compare with image using Royal Gold 400 below).

  • Bands and Rays...start of 02/13/01 storm (05:20UT) 12 secs, , negative scan
  • Curtain edge on...(05:25UT, 05:27UT) 12 secs
  • Curtains with rays...(05:39UT) 12 secs
  • Curtains superimposed...(05:35UT, 05:43UT) 12 secs, negative scan
  • Curtains with rays at 60° elevation...(05:45UT) 4 secs
  • Full Curtain...(05:55UT) 15 secs, negative scan
  • Band with rays...(06:12UT) 12 secs
  • Band with rays...(06:15UT, 06:17 UT) 10 secs


    During December 2000 and January 2001, aurora activity was mostly weak, however when it became visible, there was an opportunity to be creative. The images below were taken using longer than usual exposures and longer focal length lens.

  • rising arc...Top image taken 27 Dec 00 and bottom image taken 28 Dec 00 using Royal Gold 400 @f/2.0 for 25 secs. Note the slight difference in color between the two.

  • bands...left image using 35mm lens, right image using 85 mm lens, both @f/2.0 for 30 secs taken 20 Jan 01.
  • bands...left image using 35mm lens, @f/2.0 for 30 secs (note all the stars) and the right image for 20 secs (note the Big Dipper).

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    Last updated: 13 August, 2001