A Top 5 Aurora
I have never seen anything like this before
When you have seen more than 100 auroras the list of top 5’s don’t change that often. But the aurora on February 26–27 2023 made it to that list. Here’s the story of the most red aurora I have ever seen.
A massive particle cloud that the sun had thrown out a couple of days ago hit the earth at 9:30 PM making the northern lights indexes rise dramatically. But the evening had been cloudy and I thought it would stay that way. Luckily, at 10:30 PM the clouds were gone and I saw the northern lights from my balcony. I hurried to get ready, taking all my clothes on, packing my gear into my bag and filling my thermos. The temperature was –5° Celsius (23° F) but it was expected to get colder during the night.
I jumped into my car at 11 PM but I hadn’t yet decided on a destination. I made up my mind as I drove out from the town. I wanted to capture a place I have been to several times when the northern lights have been visible. There’s a long beach there, there are rocks and crooked pine trees, there’s a beautiful church on the rock.
I wanted to capture the church with auroras decorating the sky above it.
An active phase I just had to capture.
Already when I left town I saw the northern lights on the south side of the sky. That only happens when the activity is so strong that the aurora oval is extending very far south. This night even people in Germany had seen the northern lights!
I didn’t get far before had to stop for a photo shoot. I didn’t want to miss an extra active phase. I spent ten minutes of frantic photographing. The green lines above me were bright and went from the north-western horizon to the east.
At one point there were two lines with the moon in the middle. I thought it looked like an angel with wings stretching up. What an awesome sight!
So far this was the strongest aurora this season. But it would become even better!
After ten minutes I continue to drive. The aurora was a little weaker for a while which suited me perfectly. I was a little worried, though, that there would be no more active phases.
I arrived, parked my car and walked through the untouched snow to the church. It’s a camp site church and it’s not in use during the winter. The aurora was big but somewhat pale and I captured it straight above the church.
Northern Lights right above the church.
Red auroras filling the sky. I was stunned by the sight.
Then this fantastic thing happened—the sky suddenly turned red in the east. I have seen red auroras before but never this strong. And I have never before seen an aurora which was more red than green. This was the effect of two combined events on the sun’s surface a couple of days earlier: a coronal hole giving us a strong solar wind and a coronal mass ejection, a CME. That’s when the sun throws out a lot of plasma at once. Now the plasma particles from these two events crashed into earth’s atmosphere creating this visual entertainment.
The following photos I took were simply amazing and I worked intensely to capture as much of it as I could, with the church in the foreground from different angles.
Then the moon gave me a pleasant surprise. It was hanging quite low and cast shadows on the church roof, which stretches all the way down to the ground. It was just so beautiful, like a painting of dark tree silhouettes on the white snow.
Silhouette art by the moon.
More shadows on the church. More auroras.
And then the clouds came. You could still see the northern lights through the clouds but I thought the show was over due to those clouds coming in.
After 45 minutes of absolutely amazing auroral activity it suddenly became cloudy and I went back to my car, thinking this was it.
As I drove back home I realized I hadn’t eaten my sandwiches yet so I stopped to do that. I arrived at my house, parked the car, collected everything to bring it in with me and stepped out.
When I looked to the sky I saw no clouds there. Maybe those clouds I had seen earlier were local, or maybe they already had passed? I don’t know, but when I looked to the sky I saw the northern lights getting stronger once again.
You simply can't go in and go to bed when it looks like this. I had to continue capturing the magic.
The northern lights hung down like a curtain over my town.
The water tower stretched towards the northern lights corona.
Now for the third time I started to capture them. The street lights were turned of, as they are these days from 11 PM in my town due to the current high energy prices. It was dark enough to get some nice shots in the town before I finally went in and went to bed.
The title “Holy Light” is of course because there’s a church in the picture. It actually refers to a song in Swedish where the lyrics go something like (my translation):
The bright light of heaven is shining, / the Word that ignites faith. / In this holy house of God / my spirit finds peace again.
Sometimes seeing the northern lights is almost a spiritual experience. This time it surely was!
The photo Holy Light is now available as a print. To get 15% off, please use the code “nordland” at checkout.