Icarus Photography


Aurora Borealis, Meteor & Persistent Train

It was a perfect night at Pine Lake in the Wood Buffalo National Park to photograph the Aurora Borealis. The image is a composite of 383 individual 15 second exposures, stacked with StarStaX. Total exposure length was 95.75 minutes. You should be able to spot the two bright shooting stars near the center of the image.

The video time lapse was rendered from the 383 individual images at 15 frames per second. Unfortunately in early August that far North, the sky is only dark enough for about two hours to take photographs of the Aurora. Enjoy.

August 22 UPDATE:

Upon further inspection of the individual frames of this time lapse, I discovered that I caught a persistent train when the second bright meteor hit.
The following four frames show the meteor hit the atmosphere (first image), followed by the persistent train in the remaining three images.

Meteor & Persistent Train
Meteor & Persistent Train
Meteor & Persistent Train

From Phil Plait: Technically, that’s called a persistent train, and it’s not actually smoke. As a meteoroid (the actual solid chunk of material) blasts through the air, it ionizes the gases, stripping electrons from their parent atoms. As the electrons slowly recombine with the atoms, they emit light — this is how neon signs glow, as well as giant star-forming nebulae in space. The upper-level winds blowing that at that altitude (upwards of 100 km/60 miles above the Earth’s surface) create the twisting, fantastic shapes in the train. The actual details of how this works in meteor trains are not well understood, mainly because they are so difficult to spot and study. It’s hard to point a telescope at a position in the sky when you don’t know where or when a meteor will pass through.

In this case, you can see the familiar stars of the Big Dipper on the left. Seeing a persistent train is rare. At Pine Lake, the Persistent train was visible in the images throughout thirty 15 second exposures with 2 seconds write time in between. Therefore, the persistent train remained visible for almost eight minutes in real time. Below you can see a video which is simply an enlarged version of the video above, played at a slower frame rate to make the persistent train easier to spot. Please click on the HD button and go to Vimeo to watch in high definition. Cool stuff.

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