Chasing the Aurora Borealis - May 10, 2024

Chasing auroras is a thrilling pursuit, one that demands a blend of favorable conditions to witness and capture the vivid colors streaking across the sky. For the first time since 2003, a G4 magnitude solar storm was detected, heralding the start of a spectacular celestial display. The show kicked off in Europe, a full nine hours ahead of us. The pink skies above Switzerland and France fueled my anticipation for the night ahead. 

A small group of friends gathered at a nearby beach in Lantzville for sunset, offering ample time to set up our gear and settle into a comfortable spot. With a waxing crescent moon phase, we knew the auroras wouldn't be dulled by moonlight. And luck was on our side with clear skies and a mild temperature of around 18°C, accompanied by a gentle breeze. 

As we waited for the last traces of sunset, I experimented with my phone's astrophotography mode. Remarkably, the auroras made an appearance even before darkness fully descended! Our excitement mounted as the sunset transitioned into a star-studded night. Describing the experience is a challenge, but I'll do my best to recount the magic behind the images. Watch a time-lapse I created on YouTube.

Traditionally, aurora hunting involves scanning the northern horizon. However, to our surprise, the white streaks in the sky above us revealed themselves to be auroras—vibrant hues visible only through the camera lens. For hours, we were surrounded by dancing lights, extending high into the stratosphere.

Using the astrophotography setting on my Google Pixel phone, I captured the ethereal display overhead. This feature allows the phone to absorb information for four minutes, creating a vivid image of the night sky along with a time-lapse effect. I experimented with various tripod angles and even lay down on my camp mat, gazing upward to capture the scene as steadily as possible.

Typically, I opt for a horizontal orientation when photographing auroras. However, with the auroras stretching so high, I rotated my phone on its axis for better shots. Every image was a masterpiece. To the north, the sky glowed pink, while across the Salish Sea, a kaleidoscope of purple, green, red, and yellow danced in the heavens. Above us, ghostly apparitions shimmered in white, pink, and green.

Our small group was a hive of activity, adjusting tripods and scrambling for the perfect angle. Camera phones revealed stunning layers of light and color, punctuated by exclamations of awe. It was exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure, and my chair was abandoned in favor of being fully immersed in the experience.

As the auroras began to wane, our group slowly dispersed, but my beach bestie and I lingered, determined to capture one last photo beneath the silent spectacle. Unable to resist, we changed into our bathing suits and ventured into the water under the auroras. The crowning touch to our extraordinary evening was the appearance of bioluminescence in the water—a breathtaking finale to an unforgettable night.

Retreating to bed, utterly spent, I took a moment to jot down my gratitude in my journal. I never want to forget this once-in-a-lifetime experience. What was once a distant dream captured by others became a reality, leaving me with a heart brimming with love and gratitude as I drifted off to sleep.

Writing by Julie Boyer, with editing help from ChatGPT.

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