Plymouth Astronomical Society


Aurora Images by David Rayner

The following images were taken in Pikkupala, near Kiruna in Northern Sweden in January 2013.  A short video of more of David's images can be seen here.



Beginning of a Coronal Hole Storm (20 sec, ISO 800, f2.8)




Display of colours.  Can you spot M31? (20 sec, ISO 1600, f2.5)




Aurora with some Nitgrogen Blues  (20 sec, ISO 800, f2.5)




Northern Lights in Sweden (20 sec, ISO 800, f2.8)




Aurora Borealis (10 sec, ISO 800, f2.5)




Aurora in Sweden (20 sec, ISO 800, f2.5)


If you are planning a trip to see an aurora, websites such as the NOAA / Space Weather Prediction Center provide information, including a daily prediction as in the picture below.  David is also happy to give advice.



Other useful sites are:
Space Weather
Aurorawatch UK
University of Alaska Geophysical Institute
Tromso Geophysical Observatory


David's tips for maximising your chances of getting some good shots are:

Technique tips:
Take spare batteries and keep the spares in an inside pocket for warmth.
Avoid condensation on your equipment:
       * Do not breathe on your lens – it will freeze instantly.
       * Place cold lenses & camera in zip-up plastic bags before returning to your vehicle or hotel.
       * Leave them sealed until morning to warm up.  
Practice using your camera in the dark before you go. The middle of Dartmoor is suitable. You cannot
only practice using the camera but also test out its ability to capture long exposures under dark conditions
and high ISO settings. If you can satisfactorily capture the glimmer of a nebula or M31 you will be able to get
the aurora.
Turn down your LCD brightness to minimum.
Use manual exposure & histogram.
Use manual focus, then leave it set (live-view on a bright star - or send out a torch bearer).
Experiment with settings:
       * Set aperture wide open.
       * Adjust ISO - for acceptable noise.
       * Shutter speed - against star trails.

Equipment:
A torch!
A wide-angle lens (I used 19mm equivalent).
A fast aperture (I used f2.5 but f1.4 would be better).
A high ISO ability (I used 800 to 1600 – test before you go on a dark sky).
A shutter release cable (or use the self-timer).
And with exposures of 20 - 30 seconds a firm tripod is an essential item!
Very warm clothes! (It was -17 degrees C in Sweden).

Planning:
Plan to go above the Arctic Circle (check the Auroral Oval on Spaceweather.com).
Use Google Earth & search engines (images) to plan your viewing site(s) miles away from any lighting.
Make sure you have transport to get you back late at night. (Best viewing is often midnight)
Go at the peak aurora times. Solar maximum, equinoxes, winter.
Plan for times when the moon is new or minimum. (Protects your night vision)
Take your tablet, iphone or laptop and use Internet tools such as aurora webcams, local weather reports
and auroral oval on an hourly basis. Be prepared to wait hours – so wrap up warm. 
Remember, even light clouds will block the delicate light from aurora. So plan for alternative locations and
suitable transport.









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