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.
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.
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.
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
low in north, series...184k
taken within 10 minutes...178k
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.
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.
To my 1998 images.
To my 1999 images.
To my 2000 images.
To my 2001 images
To my February 2003 images.
Since 16 August 1999