Encountering the Aurora

“Wow,” I thought to myself, as I saw the Aurora fluttering through the sky. I grabbed my camera with my shivering hand and begin to point and click numerous times. I definitely did not succeed in taking any viable pictures on my first time viewing the magnificent aurora. I didn’t succeed the second night either…


Upon my first time seeing the Aurora, I immediately felt this ethereal connection to previous humans who had claimed the Aurora were sky spirits. My scientific brain took over as I realized I was making a spiritual connection to a chemical reaction in the sky.

What are the Aurora?

There are actually several kinds of Aurora that we can see with the human eye. The image I posted is of the green line aurora. This type of aurora is caused by an emission by an electron moving from an excited state to a lower electronic state in an oxygen atom. There are three reactions that take place to cause this electronic emission of green light.

1) Energy transfer between N2 and O

2) Dissociative recombination of O2+ + e

3) Direct excitation of atomic oxygen by ambient energetic electrons

When the earth’s magnetic field is disrupted by solar winds, ions are displaced to the lower atmosphere in excess. This influx of added ions and electrons is what cause increased chemical reactions during the aurora.

Capturing the Aurora

The photographs I took of the aurora on my first attempt were just black dark shots of nothing. I managed to get strange faint green wisp in one of the shots, but aside from that, the pictures were really just blank.

After being directed to a website about photography, and getting encouragement to try and take decent pictures, I caved and bought a new camera. It was the cheapest camera to be found that took extended exposure photographs. Alas, after increasing the exposure and sensitivity to light, I captured the aurora.

I still have a ways to go before I take stunning and crisp pictures, but it’s certainly a step away from my previous label of stunningly bad photographer.

3 responses to “Encountering the Aurora

  1. It must be amazing, seeing it for real…

  2. Wow! Thanks for sharing.

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