My Top Five Aurora Nights

My Top Five Aurora Nights

A friend noted on his Facebook page that he had missed the most recent aurora borealis show, and I noted it was on my “Top Five” list of aurora nights. I actually didn’t have such a list at the time, it just randomly came out. That got me thinking a little bit about what have been some of my favorite aurora nights, focusing just on the most recent solar cycle. In the previous cycle, I was only dabbling in aurora borealis photography. And the one before that … well, I was living on Guam. Not much aurora chasing going on down there.

It turns out it was not too difficult to come up with an actual list of my Top Five aurora nights during this solar peak. In coming up with this list, I considered the length of the display, the variety of displays (shapes and colors), the display’s reach across the sky, and how active the display was.  Given those considerations, it is easy to come up with my number one.

1. St. Patrick’s Day, 2013

For years I had been working on capturing the aurora borealis in Portage Valley within the Chugach National Forest south of Girdwood. With some friends visiting from out of state (Nick Selway and CJ Kale of Lava Light Galleries and Nolan Nitschke of Bishop, CA) and a good forecast, we headed down to Portage Valley. We set up and waited, and things were quiet for  a while. Then, a deep purple glow started to appear in the sky above the mountains to the north. The first set of curtains of green appeared and danced above the mountains. The rest, as they say, was history. And for many people, this was one of the top aurora events in the last twenty years. You can read more about this night in “Portage Persistence.”

Aurora borealis over Portage Valley, Chugach National Forest, Alaska.

St. Patrick’s Day, Aurora and Moon over Portage Valley

2. October 13-14, 2012

This evening started with me checking Facebook and receiving an IM from a friend asking, “Are you heading out?” My response was, “Why?” Then I checked the spaceweather data and noticed a strong aurora was in progress. Then, I looked outside, and saw aurora directly over my home in western Anchorage near Jewel Lake. It was 9:00 p.m. I grabbed my gear and headed out, exchanging texts with friends who were already on location. I stopped first at Point Woronzof to photograph the view of the aurora with Cook Inlet. After capturing several images (including one with yellow and red aurora), I headed north on the Glenn Highway. Another eruption of the display forced me to pull over on the highway near the weigh station and capture some more. I eventually spent the next seven hours photographing at various locations along the Knik River near Palmer.


October 13, 2012, Aurora over Mt. Susitna and Cook Inlet

3. January 3-4, 2015

Yes, this just happened a day ago, but it is the reason I decided to come up with this list in the first place. The aurora started showing up fairly early, but really took off shortly after 2:00 a.m. and kept going and going. I got home at 6:30 a.m. and could have stayed up for more. Others reported seeing it still going at 8:00 a.m. I include it high on this list because it really meets a lot of the criteria above, but it also had something I have never seen before, what I am calling an “Aurora Flash Fire.” Essentially, it was an auroral band of green that formed on the horizon, and then the underside turned a bright magenta. The magenta part rippled and danced very quickly for about four seconds, and then the whole band just disappeared. Poof! Gone from the sky.


Jan. 4, 2015, Aurora over Bird Creek, Chugach Mountains

 4. February 7-8, 2014

It is a really close call between this night and the night of Jan. 3-4, 2015 for third place. This night had incredible, across-the-sky, undulating displays. It had these beautiful rainbow curtains that I have never really seen quite the same on other nights. But, the main part of the show only lasted about two hours. That shorter duration is what puts this night in fourth place, but it was still a fantastic night to be out on the Denali Highway east of Cantwell.


Feb. 8, 2014, Aurora over Alaska Range

 5. November 8-9, 2013

This night had a real mix of some soft, slow-moving aurora that kind of hung in the sky for a while and others that waved about. It was also the first time I saw what I call “Shimmering Aurora” where the aurora appears as flashes that go across the top of the sky, like ripples in water. I started in Portage Valley and stopped at a few locations along the Turnagain Arm on my way home. All told, I shot for about five hours this night.


Nov. 9, 2013, “Shimmering Aurora” over Turnagain Arm


To view more aurora borealis images from these nights and others, visit my Aurora Borealis gallery. When viewing an image simply click “Buy Image” to see options for print purchases.

Leave a Reply