VISUAL ARTIST — OWNER OF LAKE SUPERIOR PHOTO GALLERY/STUDIO
Cover 📷: Shawn Malone
A: The northern lights are driven by solar events on the sun. You can check online to view the evening’s Kp index, which is an average of solar activity around the world measured in 3-hour increments on a scale of 0-9. At our latitude, a Kp 4 or greater means good odds. With a higher Kp, clear skies, and a few other favorable space weather data indicators, all you need is a good dark sky location facing north.
A: Any time the aurora is active low on the horizon, (most common at our latitude) it is best to get away from the city lights of Marquette to a very dark sky location with an unobstructed view of the northern horizon. So basically anywhere along the lakeshore is fantastic including Little Presque Isle, Presque Isle, and the M28 turnouts. Presque Isle Park is the only dark sky park in the Upper Peninsula and is now open until 1 a.m. every Friday and Saturday night. Street lights in the area are shut off to provide an optimal dark sky viewing area. If the aurora is bright enough, Picnic Rocks, south Marquette and the Welcome Center in Harvey are also easily accessible options.
A: As long as you understand a few basics of getting the camera out of auto mode, you can get some awesome shots of the auroras. A basic outline to follow includes A: Lens in manual B: Camera in manual C: ISO setting between 1600-3200 D: aperture as wide open as possible to let in as much light as possible (think low numbers, f1.4,2.8, etc.) E: Shutter speed as long as possible before you start picking up star movement, anywhere from 5-20 seconds. You may have to go longer if you need more light in your images. Other things you need besides your camera—a tripod to steady the shot for long exposure, cable release, and headlight so you can see when you adjust your settings or need to find the bottom of your frame in a new moon environment. That, or I offer several night sky photography workshops during the year!
A: The aurora starts with a strong solar event sending an elevated solar wind of charged particles (electrons) towards Earth. These electrons strike Earth’s magnetosphere and travel along magnetic field lines towards the north and south poles where they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in Earth’s upper atmosphere. The atoms excite, then relax and release a photon, which is light. This is what we see as the aurora borealis. This is similar to how a neon light works.
A: Maximize your potential for seeing the aurora by learning about space weather predictions from NOAA Space weather! Settle into one of Marquette’s many north-facing dark sky areas and make sure the local forecast is clear as the aurora can’t be seen when there is cloud cover. Most important data readings for determining if you can see the aurora are:
Also, be aware of the moon phases as a full moon will wash out less active auroral displays and greatly decrease the ability to see the night sky. Be patient if there is geomagnetic storming, it ebbs and flows and you can have multiple substorms in one night with visible activity varying greatly over the span of just a few minutes.
Equipment Essentials: > Camera > Tripod > Cable release > High capacity card > Back-up battery > Warm clothes > Headlight > Waterbottle