Saturday, January 26, 2013

Stalking the Aurora Borealis

As you know, for me one of the big draws to move up here was the opportunity to see the Aurora Borealis, or northern lights. So, I've been doing some reading about when, and where to best see them. Popular opinion around town says that the best place to view the lights is out by the airport. Certainly the stunning picture on the brochure for the base was taken there. Ok, now how about when.
Near as I can figure it, scientists measure the earths electromagnetic energy in Kp. It's possible to get Kp values between 0 and 9. When the Kp is higher, you're more likely to see the lights, when it's only a 1, it can only be seen right near the pole, and when it's a zero, there is no auroral activity at that time. Each area has a kp threshold, that needs to be met or exceeded to see the lights in that area. For example, Moosonee, with a latitude of 51 degrees, has a Kp threshold of 3. So any time the Kp value is 3-9, we could theoretically see the lights here.
Last night the Kp value was a 4 between midnight and 1 a.m., and the weather network said it would be a clear night here in town. So I told Andrew, who grinned at my enthusiasm, and we watched a few tv programs to kill the time til around 12. Then we warmed up the truck, bundled up and headed to the airport.
It turns out the weather network was mistaken. It was not a very clear night. We could see the moon and some of the stars straight up in the sky, but the whole northern sky was blanketed in cloud. The aurora was probably happening alright, but it was happening behind those clouds. Bugger. But we still had a nice little night out together. We drove out to the island, and Andrew gave me the grand tour on that side, showing me the base he'll work out of, and the hospital. You know, what a paramedic considers the important landmarks. We also saw the ecolodge, which apparently has a great restaurant, and the store complex over there that contains the Northern grocery store, post office, a few health offices and apparently a nice little cafe. I'm getting a little less apprehensive about crossing the ice every time we go over. My belly still flutters a little on the big bumps though.
So, no aurora last night, but we had a fun time anyways exploring our surroundings and just spending time together. We'll catch you next time, Aurora.

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