Northern Lights: Long exposures, a Satellite and a Satellite-Receiving Dish

Alaska, Landscapes, Photography

The Northern Lights visited last weekend, thanks to a solar flare that sent charged particles towards Earth. In a news brief, alerting northern residents to the likely lights display, The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner quoted a NASA scientist saying “This is the strongest flare seen so far in 2013.” It will likely be the last significant show of 2012-2013 winter, Fairbanks already has over 15 hours of sunlight, with dusk and dawn expanding far on either end.

I work late on the weekends, Friday night I had my tripod, but the lights weren’t very dramatic. Saturday night the lights were much stronger, but I foolishly was without tripod. I tried to find adequate surfaces to rest my camera and relied on the 2-second self timer, effective, but far from ideal.

2-second self timer, camera on the ground. A 40-second exposure allows the photographer to step back and enjoy the show, even while photographing.

2-second self timer, camera on the ground. A 40-second exposure allows the photographer to step back and enjoy the show, even while photographing.

Although April 10 recorded the strongest solar flare of the year, it did not produce the most dramatic lights I have seen this winter. Those came over the nights of March 16 and 17. I went out with a tripod that night.

Earth's originally satellite the moon, a satellite receiving dish and radio tower, all visible on top of Ski Boot Hill as northern lights streak overhead.

Earth’s original satellite – the moon, a satellite receiving dish and radio tower, all visible on top of Ski Boot Hill as northern lights streak overhead.
Setting the camera pointed straight up creates a fun, abstracted form. The Big Dipper is visible in the top-left portion of the photo.

Setting the camera pointed straight up creates a fun, abstracted form. The Big Dipper is visible in the top-left portion of the photo.

Thanks to all the wonderful visitors I’ve had over the last few days. I’ve greatly enjoyed viewing your blogs as well.

New years eve: Alaska Satellite Facility tracking aperture and fireworks.

Alaska, Landscapes, Photography

A satellite-receiving dish is seen as fireworks celebrate the end of 2012 and the start of 2013 on the ski trails at University of Alaska Fairbanks. Known also as a tracking aperture, the 11-meter dish is part of the Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF) of the Geophysical Institute’s Satellite Tracking Ground Station (STGS). The 11-meter X- and S-Band system, along with a smaller 10-meter dish, are just one appendage of a world-wide Near Earth Network, run by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The high latitude of ASF’s ground station allows for 11 connections per day with polar-orbiting spacecraft, ASF then downlinks, processes and distributes data.

New Years Eve Sparktakular 2012

New Years Eve Sparktakular 2012

I tried to correct the color of the tracking aperture, which had a yellow caste due to artificial lighting, while maintaining true hues of the fireworks. To accomplish this I set my white balance on the dish, lightened the shadows and slightly saturated the image. What made the biggest difference was a slight curve, increasing the highlights and decreasing the shadows, of the red and green spectrums. The end result, I feel is very close to what would have been seen.

My ISO was 125 and tripod shooting was essential, and exposure times were 10 to 15 seconds.