Skip to content
16 March 2016 / leggypeggy

The Northern Lights perform

Swirling aurora borealis with treesAurora borealis with trees

We drove north to Coldfoot—into the Arctic Circle—and then farther on to a village called Wiseman.

A small mining community, Wiseman was founded by gold miners who abandoned Slate Creek (later renamed Coldfoot) in 1919 to try their luck there.

Today it is one of the best light-free places in Alaska to view the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis. It’s three miles from the Dalton Highway and with only 13 residents, it’s easy enough to tell everyone to turn off their lights at night.

Aurora borealis in WisemanAurora borealis in WisemanAurora borealis in Wiseman

We headed up to Wiseman on Thursday at 10:30pm. We were supposed to go on Wednesday but it was so cloudy we negotiated to wait it out until Thursday and hope for better weather. We were blessed with perfect conditions.

So all we had to do was wait for the aurora to turn on the show.

Actually we could see the aurora gearing up while we were still in Coldfoot, so we were confident of seeing at least some activity.

I’m not going to go into all the science of the aurora. Even today there isn’t a full understanding of how it’s formed, but it has to do with the interaction between solar winds and the earth’s magnetosphere.

Aurora with pinks 2Aurora with pinks 1

This is what a sign in the Fairbanks cultural centre said. ‘The aurora receives its power from the sun. When sunspots flare on the sun’s surface, charged particles radiate out across the galaxy on the solar wind. About three days later some of these charged particles—protons and electrons—reach earth. The earth’s magnetic field pushed these particles toward the poles. Like a neon sign, these ‘charged particles “light up” gases in the upper atmosphere 60 to 500 miles above the earth, producing a colourful array of light swirling and rippling throughout the sky.’

We saw a 40-minute film at the cultural centre that said severe aurora displays can and do interfere with public utilities. Apparently a whole electrical network in Canada was knocked out in 1989.

Aurora with pinks and treesAurora with pinks and trees

But in Wiseman we didn’t worry much about the science. We were there for the show—and a show we got.

It took me several goes to figure out the best camera settings and I still don’t know if I found the very best ones. I was using a Canon 600D with an EFS 15–85mm lens.

My settings were an f-stop of 3.5 (couldn’t get as low as 2.8), a shutter speed of 15 seconds (10 wasn’t enough) and an ISO of 800. I set the camera to manual focus and put that on infinity. Here are the results.

Aurora fading a bitAurora fading a bit

The show started to die down and we were going to head home about 1:30am. We voted to wait a while to see if another display materialised. Wow, we were glad we waited. Most of the pics here are from a display performing, off and on, for about 10 minutes just after 1:35am.

About the colour
The most common auroral colour is yellow-green. It is produced by oxygen atoms about 60 miles above the earth. High altitude oxygen atoms (about 200 miles up) glow a rare red, while nitrogen molecules emit a purple tinged with red. But keep in mind that the camera sees these better than the naked eye. That said, I could see the colour in these.

P.S. I decided that these didn’t need captions.

Aurora borealis in AlaskaAurora borealis in Alaska


Leave a Comment
  1. Gary Walker / Mar 16 2016 5:19 pm

    Wonderful experience. I would do anything and give up everything to witness that. Colour me green with envy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Mar 16 2016 5:26 pm

      Totally breathtaking.


      • Yvonne / Mar 16 2016 8:45 pm

        Yay, I am so happy you got to see that wonder of nature. We just took the lights for granted when I was a kid. Silly us.


      • leggypeggy / Mar 16 2016 11:29 pm

        Hard to imagine taking them for granted, but I think that’s normal with kids.


  2. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder / Mar 16 2016 5:22 pm

    Nope…they don’t really need captions! Awesome to witness the Aurora! Thanks for the information provided here about the reasons for its occurrence… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Joanne T Ferguson / Mar 16 2016 5:47 pm

    What a remarkable show lights by nature Peggy!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. gerard oosterman / Mar 16 2016 5:55 pm

    Wonderful, just great Leggy. I am taking it all in. I can’t tell you how much your photos of ‘light giving’ means to us here in the dark of Canberra..
    Please Peggy, Aurora to Australia is manna to heaven. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 16 2016 6:14 pm

      Thanks Gerard. I feel so lucky to have seen such a great display. Not sure, but I think it’s possible to see the southern aurora in Tasmania. Must go check. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rashminotes / Mar 16 2016 6:08 pm

    Wow Peggy; this is spectacular. I hope I will be lucky to see this one day!.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Worlds Biggest Fridge Magnet / Mar 16 2016 6:21 pm

    Fantastic Peggy!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. poshbirdy / Mar 16 2016 6:27 pm

    Amazing. What an incredible experience. You did well to capture these lovely shots

    Liked by 1 person

  8. mopana / Mar 16 2016 6:41 pm

    It’s fantastic 🙂
    Can I do something to be there right now? 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  9. derrickjknight / Mar 16 2016 7:00 pm


    Liked by 2 people

  10. Vicki / Mar 16 2016 9:11 pm

    What a wonderful experience, Peggy. No doubt this is one trip that will remain in your memory for some time 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Jane / Mar 16 2016 9:19 pm

    Awesome! I’m so glad you were able to experience this. Thank you for the explanation as well as the great images. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Midwestern Plant Girl / Mar 16 2016 9:34 pm

    These are so beautiful! Looking forward to getting up to Alaska one of these days and seeing for myself 😃

    Liked by 2 people

  13. melissaintransition / Mar 17 2016 2:17 am

    Thank you for sharing these great photos! What a beautiful sight and a humbling reminder of how small us humans really are.

    Liked by 3 people

    • leggypeggy / Mar 17 2016 5:39 pm

      What a beautiful way of putting it. Thanks for stopping by.


  14. Mike / Mar 17 2016 2:21 am

    How absolutely cool! I continue to live through your adventures old class-mate. Keep them coming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 17 2016 5:40 pm

      Thanks Mike, I bought you a little booklet on sandhill cranes in Alaska. Email me your address. 🙂


  15. rveganadventures / Mar 17 2016 2:53 am

    So beautiful. Would love to see these someday.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Laurie / Mar 17 2016 4:10 am

    How lucky you are to have seen this beautiful display of nature. How lucky we are that you’ve shared it! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 17 2016 5:41 pm

      I feel extremely lucky and would be cross with myself if I didn’t share.


  17. Michael Andrew Just / Mar 17 2016 6:42 am

    Really cool Peggy. Someday I’ll experience the Northern Lights

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Dorothy / Mar 17 2016 7:15 am

    Gosh more lights that have human forms, must be where the words in the song about the northern lights come from. “They call them the heavenly dancers, dancing in the sky” You have captured them so well, I have never seen human forms in the photos of aurora borealis previously. Thank you Peggy, they are terrific. Dorothy.


    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 17 2016 5:42 pm

      Thanks Dorothy. It’s amazing how many forms you see as the lights swirl above you.


  19. White House Red Door / Mar 17 2016 8:21 am

    So beautiful, Peggy! Truly a one of nature’s great wonders.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. ralietravels / Mar 17 2016 2:00 pm

    I say I don’t have a bucket list — but if I did/do, this would be on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • leggypeggy / Mar 17 2016 5:43 pm

      It would be on mine too. 🙂 Guess I’ll have to go again.


  21. smilesweetiehq / Mar 18 2016 12:09 am

    That looks amazing, I would love to see the lights first hand!
    Love Rhi xx

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Carol Ferenc / Mar 18 2016 1:24 am

    I’m so glad you got to see this glorious display of nature, Peggy. Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. thegreyeye / Mar 18 2016 4:22 am

    I saw the green mostly, with only tint of pink. U got nice colour here

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Ray / Mar 18 2016 5:02 am

    Given the difficult conditions you had to take these photos in, they turned out great! Congrats on experiencing Mother Nature’s “ballet.”

    Liked by 1 person

  25. eths / Mar 18 2016 8:19 am

    Wow! No other words.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. scarletpen28 / Mar 18 2016 9:57 am

    Lovely photos! Night shots are tricky and I can only imagine with a view like you had. My husband is working on perfecting his night photography and I know he’d love to have the opportunity that you did 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 18 2016 10:50 am

      Night photography is a huge challenge and with the light moving even more so. I hope your husband gets a chance to photograph them—and take you along too. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Lynz Real Cooking / Mar 18 2016 2:19 pm

    Wow totally amazing! Thanks so much for sharing with us Peggy!!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Cally / Mar 19 2016 6:21 am

    Wow, can’t wait until l get to experience such an amazing sight. Thanks for reminding me about my goals to travel, and see the awe and wonder of this great world we live in. Take care Cally.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 19 2016 9:18 am

      Thank you Cally. I hope you get to see the Northern Lights soon. They are totally awe-inspiring. You take care too.


  29. chattykerry / Mar 19 2016 12:04 pm

    We once saw multi-colored northern lights in Scotland during sunspot activity. It was the most wonderful experience and humbling too. Have fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Sharon / Mar 20 2016 8:22 am

    How magical! I love reading both your travel and cooking posts. Thanks so much for sharing! x

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 20 2016 9:31 am

      Thanks for joining in. I really appreciate it. Hope you are enjoying Sydney.


  31. Deb / Mar 21 2016 12:58 am

    AHmazing! So glad you waited too!! Isn’t the Universe just spectacular…there’s nothing as magical as Mother Nature and God, the stars, moon, sun, planets, galaxies…and it’s all free!! Continuing enjoying and sharing your experiences!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 21 2016 3:00 am

      We all were so glad we decided to stay a little longer. Mother Nature repaid us very kindly and very richly.

      Liked by 1 person

  32. milliethom / Mar 23 2016 2:50 am

    Thank you for posting your amazing pics, Peggy. The aurora borealis is something so many people long to see, and your photos have captured the dancing display so well. The lights are one of Nature’s most wonderful phenomena.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 23 2016 9:52 am

      It’s amazing how much they move around. Wish I could have figured out how to take a video of them.


  33. mommermom / Mar 23 2016 3:43 am

    Oh wow! What an absolutely marvellous experience. That must have been so unbelievably incredible. How do you convey this by words and pictures alone? To see it in person must have been beyond amazing oh wow! Thanks for sharing your story and the journey getting there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Mar 23 2016 11:05 am

      I wish everyone could have seen them. As you said, it was amazing beyond oh wow!.

      Liked by 1 person

  34. Sy S. / May 1 2016 7:12 am

    Off Topic- Aurora Borealis (Just saw this on AOL late this afternoon)
    The northern US might see a rare aurora borealis April 30th 2016 9:00am EST Saturday.

    If you live in the northern U.S., you might want to go outside Saturday night and look up. You could catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center has issued a minor geomagnetic storm watch.

    Those who are most likely to see the display live in the most northern states, like Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota.

    Sy S.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 2 2016 5:03 pm

      We were flying across the Pacific Ocean when you posted this, so I didn’t get a chance to reply. I wonder if people in the far north of the USA did see this?


  35. America On Coffee / May 14 2016 2:02 am

    Very interesting! Getting into the science (geophysics) and supernatural associations, would lead to continual and perhaps contradictory comments. This is a
    remarkable share!

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Tanveer Rauf / Mar 17 2017 11:53 pm


    Liked by 1 person


  1. My new hero—Ric in Fairbanks | Where to next?
  2. Mother Nature treats us to two performances | Where to next?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: