Sunday, April 28, 2013

PANSTARRS and Polar Light - Finland, March 2013

From 17 to 24 March I was in Finland, having fun in the snow at the Arctic circle. We stayed at Basecamp Oulanka at Juumajärvi, 66.26 N, from where we did snowshoe hikes, a husky sled tour, some cross-country skiing, and a trip to a world-famous bird shelter in order to see the Golden Eagle.

Of course, when going to the Arctic circle you hope for Aurora Borealis - the Northern Lights. I had seen Northern Lights before, from the Netherlands (where it is rare but on occasion can be seen), and it was stunning. So my hopes were high for an even better Arctic display. In addition, comet PANSTARRS was slowly moving out of the solar glare around that time. My secret mission: to get an image of the comet with Northern lights.

Mission accomplished, on the very first evening:

click image to enlarge

The photograph is a stitch of two images made with the EOS 60D and a Tamron 17-50mm at 17mm. It was made in late evening twilight of March 17th, the start of an evening with incredible Northern Lights. An M1-class solar flare on the 15th resulted in an earth-directed CME which arrived at the 17th - our first evening in Finland. The result: astonishing Aurora all over the sky, with two especially intense periods between 20-21h local time and around local midnight. The first peak was very colorfull, with a.o. deep purples in addition to green. During the second peak near midnight, it was mostly green Aurora It was very lively, significantly changing on sub-second scales. Rays, dancing curtains, multiple corona's, it was all visible. Seeing Northern Lights in Orion was quite special too.

This all with friendly temperatures of -25 C... As I repeatedly worked the camera with my gloves off, my fingers got numbed, resulting in some images later that night where the camera had moved during exposure, because I hadn't thightened the clampscrews of the tripod head enough. I also used one of my woolen gloves to put the Aputure timer in, as the batteries suffered from the cold. The camera itself help up remarkably well though.

During the first peak I took pictures from the nearby lake Juuma: during the second peak I photographed from the basecamp itself, using the wooden chalets to create some scenic foregrounds. Lenses used were a SamYang 3.5/8mm semi fish-eye, and the 17-50mm Tamron. Here are some pictures (exposures range from 2 to 10 seconds:

click images to enlarge

I took a number of series for a time lapse, resulting in this movie (put it on HD and full-screen: it is 1200x800 pixels):

As it turned out, that night was the only night with aurora that week - but what a splendid show it was! The local Fin people claimed it was the best show of the season.

The next evening, I targetted comet 2011 L4 PANSTARRS in evening twilight, using the Zeiss 2.8/180mm. The following image is a stack of 9 images of 1s each, taken from an unguided stationary tripod:

click image to enlarge

Just before leaving for Finalnd, I already had some views of the comet from (near) my home town Leiden in the Netherlands as well. This image was shot on March 12th from the Cronesteyn polder just east of Leiden:

click image to enlarge

After I returned from Finland, I took a last picture of the comet in the evening of April 2nd, when it was close to M31, the Andromeda Galaxy. This image is a stack of 21 images of 1s each taken with a SamYang 1.4/85mm at F2.8. I had to do quite some image processing, as the images were suffering from light pollution:

click image to enlarge

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