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Experiencing the Northern Lights

Takashi Shii from Japan

The Northern Lights appear in the sky.
Photo by Takashi Shii
The aurora borealis was flickering in the sky!


I was too stunned to take pictures the first time. My host mother works for the government as a photographer and has taken lots of pictures of the aurora and arts and crafts.

Because she is a professional photographer and has two or three sets of cameras, she kindly lent me one and taught me how to use it.

I clearly remember the sixth night in Yellowknife. Suddenly my host mother came to my room around 8 p.m. and told me to change clothes and go outside quickly carrying her camera.

The aurora borealis was flickering in the sky! I just stood there with my mouth open. It was like ghosts like lots of myths and legends have said. I was so stunned that I forgot to take pictures of the mysterious lights.

I was so excited that I couldn't sleep at all that night. After that night, whenever it was clear, I went outside at night and looked at the sky. It was so cold that I lost all feeling in my hands and feet.

The lights sometimes moved so fast that I was unable to take pictures of the lights, for I needed a long exposure for that. Of course the exposure depended on the film I used, the brightness of the northern lights, and the house lights around me. These elements made it difficult for me to take very good pictures.

Additionally, the time I was able to be out was limited. I had to bring her camera back to the house in one hour at the most, for the camera would break because of the cold temperature. The coldest temperature which I experienced was 45 degrees below zero. Unfortunately, whenever I had to go inside the house, the great northern lights were flickering in the sky.

Green northern lights
Photo from Takashi Shii
As I took pictures of the northern lights, I came to find a characteristic movement of the lights.


As I took pictures of the northern lights, I came to find a characteristic movement of the lights. They first appear in the north part of the sky and then they gradually come down to the south part of the sky. After that, suddenly, they come right in the middle of the north and south only for a while, which is the time when the best northern lights can be seen.

Therefore, I often went out when the northern lights are located in the southern part of the sky and waited for the best northern lights. Since it is only a few seconds for the northern lights to come down to the middle of the sky, it is very hard to get good pictures.

The year 1997, when I went to this province, was not supposed to be a year when I would be able to see the good northern lights because the northern lights have a strong attachment with the movement of the sun or its 11-year cycle. 1991 was the year when red northern lights, which are rare in Yellow Knife, were observed.

The stronger the sun acts, the better and strong the northern lights flicker in the sky. That's because they occur from the collision of atmospheric gases and solar wind. Much more solar wind comes to the earth when the sun is active, which leads to the best northern lights.

Most of the time I saw green northern lights. Occasionally, I saw pink or purple ones. The colors of the northern lights depend on the height of the collisions and the kinds of gases. So, the next best northern lights should be seen in 2002. Even though the year 1997 was sort of in the middle of 1991 and 2002, I think I was lucky that I was able to see good northern lights even though I didn't see red northern lights. 

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