Focus on Stars

This past week and a bit, I’ve attended all of the learning vacation lectures at the CNSC and learned heaps about astronomy and the aurora. It’s something I’ve always wanted to know more about (I’ve always loved the stars), and now I know a little bit more about the science and physics behind it all.

In a nutshell, the aurora appears because of the sun. Sun spots, tears, or holes in the sun’s atmosphere spew out radiation and shoot off electronically charged plasma, which travels through space and can head straight to our planet. When this plasma reaches earth, our atmosphere protects us from being burnt to a crisp. The particles clash together, and the energy released appears in different colours, depending on the type of particles involved. That clash and resulting colours is the aurora borealis.

In other words, the aurora is a visual representation every night of the planet keeping us safe. Pretty darn cool.

Thanks, atmosphere:

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One of my favourite lectures was about photographing the aurora. I learned a whole lot about exposure and how to focus on stars. Here’s some of the shots I got post-lecture – we had a fabulous display that night that let me practice my new skills!

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Those lights in the bottom left are the town of Churchill, 30km away from where I was. It’s amazing how much light pollution is caused, even by a small town (Churchill has a population of about 600). No wonder we don’t see much of the sky when we’re in big cities:

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Playing around with trees:

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The camera picks up more than the human eye does. That’s because the human eye has an exposure time of 1/30 of a second, whereas on your camera, you can set the exposure time anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds while photographing the aurora. What you’re seeing in this picture is 30 seconds of aurora across the sky. Often the camera will pick up more colour, as well, and people will only see the colour in the photo, not the sky, unless the colour in the sky is particularly bright. I’m lucky enough that I see the colour in the sky, as well as in my photos, all the time.

Beautiful skies over a snowy landscape:

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No lights in this picture, but I love it anyway. This is the road near the centre, where I like to take a lot of photos from. Just look at those stars:

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A little bit of clouds moved in later in the night. You need clear skies to see the aurora, since the lights are happening above the clouds. However, a few clouds won’t stop a bright enough aurora, and in this case I had fun playing around with the lights and clouds in one shot:

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Views of the centre. After about 7pm, all of the indoor lights get turned off, so as not to interfere with anybody’s view of the sky or photos. There are a few red lights in the hallways and stairwells, but other than that, everyone just feels their way around in the dark:

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The building has an observation deck off one side, which is used a lot in bear season, when you’re not allowed to go outside without a bear guard. Views from the balcony:

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A spectacular night… I am excited to keep learning more!

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