Two weeks ago, residents of southern Alberta witnessed the amazing Northern Lights, also known as the Northern Lights.
While it is commonly said that you must travel to northern Alberta or the Northwest Territories to see them, it is not uncommon to see them in the southern part of the province.
Christy Turner, an aurora hunter in Calgary, first saw the stunning lights a few years ago while driving down a highway east of the city and has been hooked on chasing them ever since.
“The funny thing is, a couple of people have told me that when you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it enough. The crazy thing is, he couldn’t be more wrong.
“It’s never the same show twice.”
The phenomenon occurs when electrically charged particles from the sun hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere, then interact with oxygen and nitrogen.
The chances of seeing it increase in the fall and last through the winter and spring on dark, clear and cool nights.
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The Calgary Aurora Hunters and the Alberta Aurora Hunters are two local groups that monitor the potential of an aurora.
They analyze data, track solar events, monitor solar wind speeds, and then share their findings on social media, but Turner said there’s never a guarantee you’ll see one.
“The data can look fantastic. You would think that a great show is brewing and nothing will happen, ”said Turner.
“Then we will have a night where we will have a super brilliant show. It is volatile. It’s not a movie, so perseverance will pay off in time. “
The chance of seeing an aurora is increased by finding a place to see them, away from city lights, explained photographer Matt Melnyk.
Nose Hill Park is a popular spot within the city of Calgary, Melnyk noted. He also suggests driving a few minutes outside on a country road near Cochrane and Airdrie, where there is less light pollution.
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“Sometimes you have to wait until two or three in the morning to see something,” Melnyk said.
“It’s very gratifying to see the different colors, the purple, the greens, the reds, the blues.”
There has been a steady increase in the number of Aurora hunters in Alberta.
“It is like nothing else in the world. It feels like the sky is alive, ”said 22-year-old astrophotographer Dylan Kaniski.
“The aurora is constantly moving and changing, changing color, changing speed, intensity, so it really feels like you’re watching the world come to life in front of you.”
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According to Chris Ratzlaff of Alberta Aurora Chasers, many young people are fascinated by the aurora. Ratzlaff said that in early 2021, the Alberta Aurora Chasers Facebook group had 30,000 members. That number has tripled to more than 100,000.
He said chasing auroras is something people can do to get outside and socialize with others safely during the pandemic.
Aurora Borealis dancing in the night sky
Ratzlaff said that Aurora photos are more vibrant than people see because cameras are more sensitive, have no limitations, and can capture a range of colors with long exposure.
Astrophotographer Kaniski offers advice for those trying to take pictures at night.
Make sure to shoot long exposures. My setting is usually around 10 seconds with an aperture of 2.8 and an ISO of 1600 “.
The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has designated five locations in Alberta as Dark Sky Preserves: Cypress Hills in southeastern Alberta; Jasper National Park; Beaver Hills, east of Edmonton; Lakeland Provincial Park, east of Lac La Biche; and Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta.
“A dark sky preserve is basically an astronomical park where local rules defend light against light pollution from big cities,” said Peter McMahon, general manager of the Jasper Planetarium and award-winning author and science journalist.
“And Jasper is especially a good place to have one of those because there aren’t a lot of streetlights here anymore, the mountains block out a lot of the light pollution coming from the cities, it’s basically a great place to see the night sky.”
Once you detect an aurora, it is important to document and report your sightings.
This helps scientists further study this mysterious phenomenon and its impact on our communications network.
“It is always possible that an exceptionally large flow of charged particles could overload the satellite circuit and burn it,” Roland Dechesne of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada told Global News.
“The more we understand, the better we can anticipate some of the issues that could affect our technical devices.”
Aurorasaurus.org is a citizen science site where anyone can post positive sightings in their area.
Dr. Elizabeth MacDonald, who works for NASA and founded Aurorasaurus.org, said Alberta is a great place to see the Northern Lights.
“Alberta has an incredible community of citizen scientists and opportunities to see the aurora throughout the year, it’s really important to get involved because auroras are always changing and conditions are always changing,” he told Global News.
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