Aurora Borealis Fail

A lot of fuss was made about the Aurora Borealis in Edmonton on October 11 this year, which my wife and I somehow managed to sleep through. Just this last weekend, another spectacular aurora was predicted due to a coronal mass ejection that had occurred on the Thursday before.

Caught up in the hype on the news, my wife and I set out to attempt our own photographs of this celestial phenomenon. I thought skipping the obvious downtown sites would provide a more interesting picture, so after an afternoon of expectant preparation, we headed out to Elk Island National Park. We planned to walk the Shoreline trail, which conveniently follows the southern margins of Astotin Lake.

After a 2km walk in the dark, we finally found a north-facing location that gave us a reasonable anchor for the grande image we were planning: a spruce-covered island topped with the Big Dipper. We unpacked our equipment, set our cameras on tripods, and waited for the boreal fireworks to happen. Two other photographers setup nearby, also professing high expectations. As we waited, we snapped a few trial shots and were happy to see the tint of green on the horizon. It was getting colder as we stood, and gradually the initial excitement receded, to be replaced by bone-chilling cold. Unfortunately, the display never progressed beyond that smear of green, and after two and half hours, we left and walked back, briskly, to the car. The road out of the park through the west gate revealed dozens of people who also had great expectations – every roadside pullout and open verge that could fit a car had expectant observers.

A hint of an aurora over Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park.
Less than grand. Just a ghostly aurora aura over Astotin Lake, with Griesbach Island in the foreground. (Elk Island National Park, Alberta.)

Will we try this again? Most likely, yes. Walking in the evening as dark descended was invigorating. The unclouded night sky was filled with stars, and even a few streaking meteors were seen. Geese and ducks were flying through the dusk, and their calls and splashes were the background notes of our time there. Even the Big Dipper also gave us a generous helping of company. However, next time, well pay more heed to the notices that are provided by Aurorawatch, which we found out later had only estimated a 19% chance of observing an aurora that night, despite an incoming solar flare.

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