Home of the Northern Lights

By Jan Curtis

These images are intended for non-commercial, educational uses and are
copyrighted (2002 Jan Curtis).

March 8-17, 2002 IMAGES

The northern lights, once witnessed in person, can never stop haunting you. This was certainly the case with me. Since moving from Fairbanks last year, whenever I received reports of major aurora storms over Alaska, I asked myself, why don't I just return for one more encounter with these wonderful lights?

With the encouragement of my wife, and of my number one aurora fan, Mrs. Shigeko Nakanishi from Japan, I found myself in Fairbanks from 8-17 March. This period was selected for several reasons. (1) The weather is very cloud free, (2) The aurora occurs more frequently, and (3) The best aurora during the solar cycle (11 years between solar maximum sunspots) happens usually after solar max (April 2000).

The following journal entries summarize my photographic expedition. I will rescan of these images at a later date in order to better show subtle details.

Night 1: 8-9 March. Drove up the Elliot Highway to milepost (MP) 27, that is 27 miles north of Fox and waited for the action to begin. From midnight to 3AM local time (9UT to 12UT on 9 March), a weak to occasionally moderate display rose out of the northeast. Very dark Skies allowed for naked eye stars down to 6th magnitude to be viewed. In the course of the next three hours, Shiegko and I traveled south towards Fairbanks and stopped at MP 22, MP 12, and MP 4 for more photo opportunities. Although the forecast was for only a 10% chance of an active display, this moderate display was idea for photo work because of the slow movement of the lights. I rated the aurora as a 4 on a scale of 1 (faint and as bright as the Milky Way) to 10 (major storm and as bright as the full moon). Temperature near zero with wind chill below -20F.

  • bands...220k
  • curtain/rays..204k

    Night 2: 9-10 March. Drove up to Ester Dome, about 5 miles NW of Fairbanks. Although the city lights were bright to the southeast, the view to the west was ideally dark with several TV antenna a top of this 2,000+ foot hill that overlooked the city. Just prior to activity, a Japanese visitor decided to turn his car around right next to ours. He immediately got stuck in a snow bank. I left the warmth of my car to see if I could get him loose. He couldn't speak a word of English but fortunately Nakineshi came to the rescue. We learned that he was a train conductor from Tokyo and was here to photograph the aurora (first time). I worked his car free and when I told him who I was, he got very excited and said that he knew of me from the internet and all I can say is that fate works in strange ways. By 9UT, the aurora began to develop and by 10UT, moderate to active displays covered three quarters of the sky with beautiful rayed filled curtains. By 10:40UT activity peaked to minor to major storm levels. While I was changing film by letting my camera warm in the car, I successfully shot some digital images at f/2.1, iso 400, at 8 secs. After breakup, the aurora pulsed and flickered until we left at 12:20UT. I managed to shoot two more rolls of film and captured some interesting forms. City lights didn't impair our viewing. This display was forecasted to be 15 percent active with only a 5 percent change of storming. We certainly were pleased that the forecast was a bit conservative. I rated the aurora as a 7 of 10 with peak activity approaching a 9 for about 5 minutes. Temperatures and skies conditions were about the same as yesterday.

  • rays...223k
  • curtain/rays...192k
  • curtain/rays...175k
  • curtain/breakup...206k
  • curtain...83k Digital
  • curtain...82k Digital
  • curtain...82k Digital
  • curtain...83k Digital
  • curtain...84k Digital

    Night 3: 10-11 March. This past night, the aurora was only moderate with 10 minutes of active intensity. Went to Chena Lake State Park about 5 miles se of North Pole, AK (22 miles from the University). Despite being within 20 miles of Fairbanks, the ne-nw horizons are pretty dark. I rated the aurora as a 3 of 10. Temperatures and skies conditions were about the same as yesterday.

  • bands...180k
  • looping curtain/bands...190k
  • rays

    ...76k Night 4: 11-12 March. This past night, the aurora started weak to moderate but increased to active for nearly an hour. Went to Chena Lake State Park again because I like the horizon to horizon view. I rated the aurora as a 5 of 10. Windchill temperatures were below -30F, definitely the coldest working experience. A few photos showed blurred star images (not shown) as the tripod was bouncing around. Some unusual formations were noteworthy with this display.

  • Shigeko & me/curtain...202k
  • rayed fill curtains...81k
  • colorful curtains...107k
  • bands...189k
  • low in north, series...184k
  • taken within 10 minutes...178k
  • Angle Hair...182k

    Night 5: 12-13 March. Went to Chena Hot Springs (65N 146W) last night and witnessed minor substorm (backside of a CME a few nights earlier)? Photos turned out okay despite 30 mph winds. Last nights display was difficult to photograph because of the rapid movement but was the strongest flare up of the 5 nights of observing. I rated the aurora as a 5 of 10. Temperature was -10F on the valley floor but 15 degrees warmer in the hills.

  • bands...190k
  • active curtains...182k
  • active curtains...196k

    Night 6: 13-14 March. Weak display. Decided to get some needed sleep instead of viewing. Night 7 & 8: 14-15-16 March. No display despite clear skies. Night 9 was cloud, the first for Fairbanks in March! Overall, the trip proved successful. I hope you enjoyed my newest additions.

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    Since 16 August 1999

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    Last updated: 19 February 2003