|Coldfoot Aurora Borealis
An aurora is a natural light display in the sky, predominantly seen in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions. Auroras are
caused by charged particles, mainly electrons and protons, entering the atmosphere from above causing ionisation and excitation
of atmospheric constituents, and consequent optical emissions.
Most auroras occur in a band known as the auroral zone, which is typically 3° to 6° wide in latitude and between 10° and 20° from
the geomagnetic poles at all local times, most clearly seen at night against a dark sky. Coldfoot resides right in the center of this
auroal zone. Other factors that make it a good place to see the aurora is that it is a remote truck stop on the Dalton Highway far
removed from any city lights. Also, the fact that it is in interior Alaska means that there are likely to be more clear nights to see the
On the first two nights I set our alarm for 1:00 a.m as 1:00 a.m to 3:00 am. is the prime time to see the aurora. We did see some
aurora, but they were mediocre. On the third night we went to bed at 8:00 p.m. with the alarm set again for 1:00 a.m However, at
10:00 p.m., Kathleen woke us up saying the aurora was visible. Sure enough, there was the aurora visible in the twilight.
Twilight soon faded away into darkness. But with all the snow, no flashlight was needed, even though it was a full moon.
Thankfully, I had mastered most of my camera buttons and was able to change settings in the dark. With auroras, a tripod is
essential. Most of my shutter speeds were six to fifteen seconds and I had a remote so as not to shake the camera when I
triggered the shutter.
The fourth night was similar to the third night. Both nights we had an Aurora at ten--twighlight. Both nights the clouds came in
around 2:00 .a.m. causing me to come to bed at that hour after taking an elated view of my pictures.
For night five, I decided to get out at twighlight. Ironicaly, that night the aurora did not begin until 11:00 p.m. It continued for an
hour, then went dark for an hour, and then went spectacular from 12:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
Below are some pictures we took at the truck stop on the first and second night when conditions were not as good. The
disadvantage of this location was that there were some lights from the truck stop and the modular units where we stayed are not
the most attractive thing photograph. In addition, there were a number of Chinese students there even took hand held pictures of
the aurora with a flash. So, by the third night I found a more remote road where the main hazard was trying to stay out of the way
of the occasional truck.
The following picture was taken just north of Fairbanks before we left for Coldfoot. The aurora was not near as good as Coldfoot,
but what is uniiqe about this picture is that it includes the pipeline. Ironically, at the time that I took this picture, I did not realize that
I was standing next to the pipeline.
Auroras are generally 50 to 100 miles above the earth where we stand.