Chasing the Northern Lights
I spent the weekend of November 9-11, 2014, in Two Harbors, Minnesota, with people from the Great Lakes Aurora Hunters Facebook group. It was GLAH’s second annual gathering in Two Harbors, an event which drew participants from many Midwestern states and Canada. The group was started by Scott Canfield of Two Harbors and has grown to involve more than 3,300 northern-lights-loving members. (More on Scott below.) The event started with a social “mixer” at the Country Inn Friday night; a few brave souls tried to go out shooting that evening, myself included, but the rain kept most attendees indoors, warm and dry. Thank goodness for weather sealed gear!
Saturday morning’s agenda was originally planned to begin with a sunrise photo shoot but the alarm failed to go off, leaving me to head out hours after the sun had emerged from the eastern horizon. I spent a couple hours along the ledgerock shore of Stoney Point before the formal GLAH activities began at noon.
Matthew Moses led the first presentation with a talk about “night photography”. He reviewed the requisite gear, how to focus at night, “starting point” camera settings, software and post-processing methods to make the best of your night sky imagery. The second presentation was about the science behind aurora forecasting and space weather predictions, led by Dan Miller and Bob Conzemius. We learned that the technology of predicting the northern lights is quite involved with extensive algorithmic modeling and mathematical formulas. If we thought weather forecasting on earth was a crap-shoot, space weather predicting is exponentially more difficult with much larger margins of error! As expected, the presenters all catered to our shared fascination and appetite for the Auroras. Thank you Matthew, Bob and Dan!
After a spaghetti dinner and a screening Alec Johnson’s most excellent documentary, “The Story of Winter,” many of us trekked up to Gooseberry Falls for some late night light painting and steel wool spinning with spin master Jamie Rabold. A few images from the night shoot are posted below. After the snow flurries passed, the clouds thinned out revealing a bright moon and many, many stars; but alas, no Auroras.
Here’s a little more on Scott Canfield and the group he started–the Great Lakes Aurora Hunters. Before the Second Annual Gathering of the GLAH concluded, Scott announced that he was going to be stepping down as the group’s leader as he will be moving to Alaska in the near future. He will remain involved but felt that the day to day administration and oversight of the Facebook group should be in the hands of people who actually reside in the great lakes region. The attendees all expressed their appreciation for his efforts and what he’s accomplished in such a relatively short period of time. I had asked him how the group came to be, what’s been the most rewarding and perhaps the most unusual or unexpected aspects of running the group. Scott responds:
“After the fantastic aurora display on March 17th, 2013, I had posted some of my images on Facebook. I had gotten several comments and one of the commenters sent me a message that he had a Flickr page for Minnesota aurora and asked me to upload some images there. The conversation continued and I had expressed my thoughts on an aurora page for our region. I made the page that night and made it public on March 30th, 2013. To build the membership, would send the link to photographers I knew in the region. There was a fair amount of marketing the page to different aurora and spaceweather groups. The first big jump in membership came when SpaceWeather Trackers would share my images with the link. When FOX21 did a two part segment on the group that also helped. The biggest Jump came from Amy Stratman of Aurora Borealis Notifications (ABN) when she shared it on the ABN page.
The most rewarding part of the whole experience is to read the posts and private messages on how people were able to see or photograph the aurora for the first time. The thing I will miss the most is how the page lights up when the aurora is active. I would have to say the most unusual aspect would be the amount of time and resources it took to get the group going and keep users engaged. I didn’t expect that. It was a hard thought out decision to take a diminished role after working to build the group. None of this would have been possible without a great team of admins to help out.”
Thanks again Scott for giving us rabid fans of the Auroras in the great lakes region a place to come together and share stories, photos, reports and notifications about our common interest. Best of luck to you in Alaska; may the Auroras always be abundant and colorful !!