Diminishing Solar Activity

On the BBC news website today, there is an article stating that, although the sun is at the height of its 11 year solar activity cycle, the solar activity is actually very low. Scientists are comparing the low activity to a time way back in the 17th century when winters got so cold, the Thames froze over for many months. I've often wondered about this period of time and why the temperatures dropped as a result. It appears that the path of the jet stream alters when the sun's activity drops.

I personally felt we were enjoying a heightened awareness of the Aurora Borealis here in the northern hemisphere, but maybe this is perhaps the first cycle we've had, where digital cameras have become commonplace, and there are more photographers around than there has ever been.

I do hope the solar activity remains high for the next few years, but if not, well, it seems we have some very cold winters to look forward to - always a bonus for the landscape photographer :-)


Just a quick post tonight. My first group have left Lofoten. We had a great week, lots of settled weather, lots of snow, lots of pink sunrises and sunsets, and we even had the Aurora.

This shot was made last night on my little Lumix GX1 camera. The group were out for a few hours shooting and got much better shots than this one. Might head out tonight for another look, as it was extremely clear tonight. Not a cloud in the sky :-)

New Years Aurora

Happy new year! On new years eve, I visited Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon with friends that I'm traveling with. We had been told there was a very good chance we'd see the Aurora - our host at the place we're staying at seemed very certain we would see the Aurora. We checked the Aurora sites and they said there was a moderate chance of seeing it.

We went just before new year came, and spent about one hour out in the dark, not entirely sure if what we were seeing was cloud lit up by the half-moon, or if it was Aurora we were seeing.

My good friend Lilian who lives in the town of Reine, in the Lofoten islands, explained to me a few weeks back on a visit to Norway, that the Aurora is always seen coming from the north, so last night, we positioned ourselves to the south of Jokulsarlon, to face north.

Almost immediately upon stopping the car, we saw a band of bright cloud in the north, but we weren't sure it was Aurora. It is only recently that I've been told the following points about Auroras:

1. Most of the time, they are faint. The full blown ones you see in many photos are exceptional circumstances.

2. Because of the cones/rods in our eyes, we can't detect the green colour in the faint Aurora too well (if at all - they just looked like faintly illuminated clouds to my eye).

Of course, the other most important aspect about Aurora is this; you need a lot of solar activity for them to happen. They are not caused by the cold weather, and they are not often on display. In a nutshell - there is no guarantee that you will see them.

But last night, we had a clear sky, and once we'd set up some cameras to shoot what we thought might be moon lit cloud / Aurora, we saw on the back of my friend Lynne's 5DMK2 a very distinct Aurora band reaching across the north of the sky.

I've had camera malfunctions all day. Through poor judgement, I took away a recently bought Hasselblad 503 camera which is constantly jamming - winder problems, lens mount problems, film back problems. Nightmare. So I've gone back to using my Mamiya 7II. Which the battery died as soon as we got to the lagoon last night. So I had to chance the battery in the darkness, and using a head torch, which wasn't ideal, as it's unwanted light pollution for those shooting around me.

Based on the exposures we worked out on my friend Lynne's camera, I was shooting Portra 800 at f4, with 1, 2, 4, 8, 12 minute exposures, since I did not have Portra's reciprocity graph at hand.

Anyway, we did indeed see the Aurora, and it has made me realise that I've most probably seen it many times in Scotland on a clear night. Only, I wasn't aware that what I was seeing was Aurora, rather than lit up clouds. Perhaps if the moon hadn't been out last night, I would have been able to detect the colour of it and be more certain of it when we noticed it. I'm not sure.

But it was a nice way to end 2011, which has been quite a year for me.