Visitors: Northern Lights and Venus

aerialFriday Jesse arrived back in Tromsø from his weeks working in the UP of Michigan, just hours before our friend, Britta arrived from London for a long weekend winter adventure. Thankfully I made it to the airport before Britta landed.  I had taken the car into the mechanic on Monday morning for a “quick” replacement of an exhaust regulator valve… but some electronic communication problems almost left us without a car at all!  Thankfully they were able to getting it running just in time.

Today was the first day of 2017 that I really saw the sun!  It was the first clear day in weeks, and apparently the flight from Oslo to Tromsø had some spectacular views of the winter wonderland.  Once we all got back to the apartment, Jesse took a quick look at the forecast… some thin clouds and Northern lights with a Kp of 3 and the Kp value was expected to decrease over the next few hours.  The Kp index is a scale of the strength of geomagnetic activity.  The higher the Kp value the more likely auroras can be seen in lower latitudes.  Tromsø happens to be in the aurora belt, so Kp values do not need to be high to see auroras, however with higher Kp values the Northern lights tend to be brighter and more active.

nordlysvenus2017-3So we had a very quick snack and headed out to search for the Northern lights.  We headed North on Kvaløya to our new favorite spot along the route to Kvaløyvågen.  Along the way we stopped when we saw some good activity out over the water.  I love to watch the light change and dance before us.  It’s a mysterious and breathtaking spectacle.  Once the lights calmed down a bit, we hopped back in the car and kept driving.  Our best views of the night were as we were driving with sheets of green, yellow and pink light waving vigorously in the sky over Kvaløya.

nordlysvenus2017-10Jesse pulled over on the side of the road, there was a single band of green light creating a arch across the whole sky.  Jesse and Jack went down near the water and started a small fire.  We were lucky there was so little wind this evening that the cold temperatures were not so bad and the fire was easy to maintain.  We setup our cameras facing west towards the ocean.  The first few shots didn’t come out to great, the lights were not as bright.  We stayed out for a few hours watching the lights and sitting by the fire to warm up.  The lights are always so unpredictable.  You would sit down by the fire for a bit and you might completely miss the amazing show behind you.  We noticed too that the fire lit up the foreground of our photos, which allowed us to take pictures of us and Jack with the Northern lights.  They are probably the best portraits that we have with the auroras.

nordlysvenus2017-13As we continued to take pictures I noticed that there was one star in the Western sky that was really bright.  I initially thought it was a plane, but it didn’t move and I saw it repeatedly in my photos.  It was so much brighter than any other stars in the sky and was so bright that its light was reflecting in the water.  Finally, I suggested that it had to be a planet or something — maybe Mars, because of nordlysvenus2017-21how bright it was.  We found out later that it was Venus.  The planet eventually set behind the mountains.  The light of the moon and fire created some light pollution, but we were still able to watch the auroras as they would grow in intensity, bloom into colorful and bright activity, and dissipate slowly again.  It was a great night of sightseeing, and we were back home by 9 PM… not too late to still make some dinner 🙂

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