Flight Landing under the Aurora
Updated: Jun 25, 2019
On October 7 a giant Aurora filled the sky. I'm used to seeing the Northern Lights only above the northern horizon but this was large. And very, very strong. Let me tell you the story about that night.
In an Aurora Notifications group on Facebook I learned about the giant sun spot pointing towards earth and throwing particles our way. This means increased chances of a great Aurora. It takes three days for a particle cloud from the sun to reach earth.
So I was prepared.
Luckily this happened to be the very same night I had to pick up my daughter from the little local airport, which is located in the middle of nowhere.
In the middle of the darkness, as I see it.
The flight would arrive at 1 am but I saw the Northern Lights shining at 9:30 pm so I prepared to head out as soon as I could. Which was at 10:30 pm.
My first stop was on a small road going through a forest. I wanted to capture that setting since it's something I often see when going on an Aurora safari. Trees pointing up towards a starry sky and the green Aurora light decorating it. This sight always makes me hurry to get to an open space but, for a change, I decided to stop right there in the forest.
The Aurora was large but thin. Not spectacular in any way but more like a thin green cover over a big part of the sky. After taking a few photos, including some selfies, I continued out on the fields where I made my second stop.
I had no idea what was just about to happen.
The Northern Lights had been strong an hour early, so I expected it to get stronger again during the night. That's how it often works. But I had not expected such a spectacular show that I was about to see.
The Kp was now 5 and the Bz -7 which is very good. Kp goes from 0 to 9 and everything above 3 is promising. Bz has to be negative for the very best Auroras to appear. It can go from –10 to +10 in minutes and you never know how it will behave. You just have to wait for the right index. And it was good already when I stopped by the fields.
The sky was clear, no wind and the temperature was just below zero degrees Celsius. I was warmly dressed as usual and I had a couple of hours for driving and shooting before my daughter's flight would arrive at the airport.
The open fields (<– Click if you want to see where I was) displayed an Aurora going from horizon to horizon right above my head. It slowly grew stronger and I pointed my camera towards both “ends”, and sometimes straight up. And then I took some more selfies where I pretended to conduct the visual symphony as it was approaching its climax. (First photo in this post.)
At 11:03 that climax came. And man what a show it was!
I had to reduce the exposure time from 15 seconds to 6 seconds and then down to 2.5 seconds (f/4, ISO 1250) to prevent my photos from being over-exposed.
During the next 10 minutes I took over 100 photos of one of the best Auroras I have ever seen in this area! It definitely made it to top 3!
It was the kind of Northern Lights you would expect to see in Lapland, a lot further north, that is. I even sent a message to my wife and said: “If you're still up, go out now!”
At one point I laid down on the pavement on the small road (no, there is no traffic there at all) just watching the show above me.
Then I decided to relocate. I took the long way to the airport so I could drive through darkness most of the time. Unfortunately the Aurora never really reappeared with the same strength although visible and quite large throughout the night.
I stopped at a bridge taking some photos with the Aurora reflecting in the water, but this time I had to use a longer exposure time again.
The last stop was at the edge of the airport runway. My plan was to capture the aircraft landing with the runway lights AND the northern lights visible. Would it work? I had no idea but I prepared and tested and hoped for the best. I knew I had only one chance. One single exposure and that was it.
Yes! I got it, although I didn't manage to keep the camera still as I also captured the flight approaching and then turning the camera 180 degrees and captured it flying over me.