Secrets in the Night SkyExpired
Few things are as breathtaking as your first experience with the Northern Lights. To see the sky light up in the crisp night air is like stepping into a fairytale or wonderland.
Few things are as breathtaking as your first experience with the Northern Lights. To see the sky light up in the crisp night air is like stepping into a fairytale or wonderland. Saskatchewan offers up a perfect combination of elements that create the optimal conditions to view this magical phenomenon.
Our province may boast very little in the way of elevated scenery- mountains and skyscrapers are hard to come by here. What this does afford us is an unobstructed horizon line that presents a 360 degree view of the skies. Even if you are a city-dweller, driving a maximum of 45 minutes in nearly any direction should bring you to a desolate country road, away from the light pollution of the larger centers. Those living on acreages need only to squelch the house and yard lights in order to draw back the curtains on a beautiful sky view.
The Right Conditions:
While a viewing is never guaranteed at any time, the optimal season for viewing the Northern Lights is between October and March. These longer nights and clearer skies increase our chances of catching a glimpse of the auroras. You can check the KP index online to see what the likelihood of solar activity might be, or you can join a social media group like Saskatchewan Aurora Hunters to have some of your questions answered or be advised of which nights to go scanning the skies. Before dismissing the sky immediately as unlit, spend a few minutes to acclimatize your eyes to the dark. Dress appropriately too – often it is the chilly temperatures that drive us back inside before the show is over.
Capturing the Moment:
While owning equipment such as a tripod and a DSLR camera may be ideal for snapping clear, colorful, and mysterious photographs of the Northern Lights, any respectable smart phone has the capability to showcase the beauty of the night sky. In your camera’s settings, select Manual or Pro; on an iPhone, you may need to select the up arrow in the middle of the screen to access the hidden menu. Choose a high ISO setting to capture the faint light, and set your white balance to around 3200K for a more natural look. Set your shutter speed to between 1-5 seconds when the lights are bright and dancing, and between 20-30 seconds if they are slow and dim. Experimenting with different exposure times and framing techniques can result in stunning photographs.
When you’re ready to try your settings, and if you don’t own a tripod, you can set your phone’s camera timer to assist with your photos. Find a firm flat place to lay your camera, set your camera for a 5 second timer, press the shutter button and place it face down using the outward camera. Step away from the camera and wait for a minute to let the camera’s settings capture the night sky. Once finished, pick it back up and check your photos – make some adjustments and try again – it takes a little time to find just the right settings for both your camera and your environment. Remember that cold weather can drain your phone battery faster than normal, so get that phone charged up before you head out!
Why It Happens:
The Northern Lights are a result of charged particles from the sun colliding with gases in the Earth's atmosphere, causing them to emit light. In Saskatchewan, the display is often dominated by shades of green, but hues of pink, purple, and red can also make appearances. The intensity and colors of the auroras depend on the type of gas particles involved and the altitude at which the collisions occur.
We may not have dramatic mountainscapes or whimsical coastlines, but the prairies offer some of the most beautiful sky canvases in the world. Between the parhelion (sun dogs) on our crisp, bright winter days, the stunning sunrises and sunsets, and the Aurora Borealis, our skies are filled with wonder and majesty. Take your next opportunity with a friend or family member and experience Saskatchewan’s celestial phenomenon together.