21.03.2016 - 25.03.2016 -25 °C
The wildlife, the cool souvenirs and the tasty fish meals were nice, but they were not the inspiration for the cold trek to Yellowknife. The star attraction was the promise of a glimpse of the beautiful and mysterious Aurora Borealis (aka the Northern Lights).
The science is interesting. The sun shoots off solar flares comprised of vibrating protons and electrons, they hurtle through space sometimes reaching the earth where they get caught in the atmosphere. When these charged particles collide with oxygen molecules they energize it and they spark green (the most common colour) and red when they strike nitrogen molecules and so on. The displays are most common in the northern latitudes because this is where earth's magnetic field is strongest.
For three nights, we bundled up against the -30C cold and headed out to a cozy cabin on a small, frozen lake a short drive outside of town. We had really good weather, the nights were clear and the inky sky was brightened by an almost full moon. We set up our tripods on the frozen lake, and from 10pm until 2am, we huddled in the cabin playing silly games, nursing hot chocolate and eating treats while waiting to see if the aurora would come out to play.
The first night there was nothing, nothing, nothing. Just when our guide was suggesting we return to town, the aurora dropped in for a short visit. That night, they were faint. If I didn't know better, I would have mistaken the aurora for a band of white clouds streaked across the sky. It quickly became clear this streak was different. In a millisecond, it would fade, widen, narrow, or glow a little brighter. Sometimes the streaks would lengthen into arcs (like a rainbow) over our heads, glitter gently and then just fade away. Taking pictures was super fun! The camera lens captured more than my eyes and the crazy streaks in the images would appear in varying shades of limey green.
We came out the second night full of anticipation, and we did not have to wait long before the fireworks started. To the soundtrack of cheering and applauding tourists from Hong Kong, the aurora danced! First, it assumed the form of a shower-curtain waterfall as it rippled across the sky. Then another streak appeared, swirling through the air with grace, like a ribbon skillfully flicked by a rhythmic gymnast. It was impossible to soak it all in. There were multiple arcs interacting, arcs would fade in one place and pick up behind you, or over your head. I felt like a dog chasing its tail! The sense of movement was spectacular and the colours were more pronounced. In the more active displays, striations of limey green were visible with the naked eye. In one thick, glittery streak, I could see a strip of pink and a smidge of yellow. Wow!
The third night was much more subdued. Out of nowhere, after we had packed up and were getting into the van, we got a sweet kiss good-bye. A mini aurora curtain appeared out of nowhere and then a snakey ribbon spun itself into a tornado before fading into glitter.
Just got home after an unexpected extended layover in Calgary. Happy to put away the long johns and the ski pants!