The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are one of nature’s most spectacular sights.
I live near Toronto, Ontario, too far south to see them especially when the sky is constantly lit up by the lights of the city reflecting off the upper atmosphere.
In over 40 years of photography outings, several times a year, to Algonquin Park a couple of hundred miles north of here, I have been lucky enough to see the northern lights twice. The first time was in 1971 when I was camped on the south shore of Tea Lake. We were treated to a late night show of dancing blue and white light high in a black star-studded northern sky. The second time was in the mid 90s. I was on the south beach of Canisbay Lake when they appeared over the northern shore. The green and yellow flames didn’t reach very high but they seemed to stretch out from one end of the horizon to the other. Unfortunately I have no successful photographs of either occurrence. That was when I still used film. Today, with the instant feedback of digital technology, I’d be much more likely to have some photos to show you.
Only twice? Most people I know have never seen them and never will. My son worked in Algonquin as a canoe tripping guide for several years and he has never seen them. Nor have many other friends who also work there.
I was very excited when I heard about this new website from the Canadian Space Agency in cooperation with the University of Calgary and Astronomy North. It went live yesterday, Septmber 20, 2010. They have set up a system to broadcast live pictures of the northern lights over the internet from Yellowknife NWT. You will need to select ‘Connect’ in order to view the show. It operates as an ongoing series of still photographs that updates every 10 seconds. The website also includes some educational information and a gallery of interesting past shows that you can view. The past shows appear as a movie since there is no need to wait for the 10 second updates.
Another feature is a Twitter account you can follow that will deliver notices of when you can expect the northern lights to be active. This would be useful if you happen to live in the north where you are more likely to be able to see them. Probably less useful to those of us in the south.
This new website is designed to bring the movie version of one of nature’s wonders, the northern lights, to many of us who will never have the opportunity to see the live show. Check it out.