January and February have been awesome months for aurora viewing and photographing! But because of the arctic cold, I have stayed close to home - especially when Steve is on night shift, and not close by to help me if I had any car problems. While my car is in good repair, -45F is not easy on any vehicle, and I try not to go anywhere unless absolutely necessary.
One of the more exciting nights of aurora viewing was on January 26th. That evening, Poker Flat Research Range launched four rockets into and aurora-filled sky. The four launches were successful and were done to gather data that will help researchers understand turbulent air currents in the upper atmosphere.
Two teams collaborated to launch the four rockets. One team was led by Rich Collins from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the other by Miguel Larsen at Clemson University. Larsen’s rockets released a gas called trimethyl aluminum, which glows green when it reacts with oxygen. His team will use images of the gas dispersal to better understand turbulence. Researchers have been in position to launch since Jan. 13, waiting each night for the clear weather they needed for their experiments.
I don’t know much of the technical information in regards to these rockets, and found the above information at the Poker Flat website. But how lucky that I happened to be standing out in my road just as a rocket launched! Here are the photos I captured.
At the end of January, we had several days of continued activity. I hardly slept a wink, as I found myself stuck to the Aurora Cam, watching for the familiar lights in the sky. When I see strong activity on the cam, I know that I have several minutes to get outside and set up in the driveway or the road for photos. I especially pay attention to where the lights are showing up. If they are straight up, I have a good chance of seeing them from my house. If they are low, I know I will see very little, or will need to drive elsewhere for an open sky. (The camera is offline during daylight hours, but if you’re up late, give it a look and get an idea of what I’m seeing!)
I attended an aurora lecture given by the very knowledgeable Neal Brown - one of Fairbanks’ real rocket scientists. If you’re curious about his education and professional experience, feast your eyes on this extremely impressive resume. And if you’re local, and he schedules another lecture - GO!