Tag Archives: Reflection

Did You Just See A Proton Arc?

A proton arc is oftentimes described as a broad band of diffuse aurora. If you do a Google Image search for “Proton Arc” a plethora of beautiful images depicting a purple, red, green, or pale band of aurora will greet your eyes. Go ahead, really, search it, I can wait. Or, you can visit this website at Spaceweathergallery.com.

I had the pleasure of seeing this pale phenomenon in Juneau on September 20th, 2016 for the first time ever. In the scene, the aurora swirled to the north in front of me over mountains.  However, a  pale, confined, band of aurora ran perpendicular to the northern display, and stretched far to the south past a large, brilliant moon. In my camera it was cool blue/white in color and was in stark contrast to the green aurora that played on the northern horizon over the mountains of Juneau.  I posted the image to an aurora group on Facebook and labeled it a “proton arc” as so many before me had done. However, I received an interesting response from renowned aurora researcher Neal Brown – a true “proton aurora” is nearly undetectable by the human eye and the concept of a “proton arc” is a widespread misconception. The disagreement between the science and the public perception set my wheels turning, and even though I am not an aurora scientist, I would like to dissect why proton arcs are not truly visible.

Proton Arc, Hoonah, Alaska, Aurora Borealis
On September 20th, 2016 I thought I saw a “proton arc” in Juneau, however, it seems my misunderstanding of this auroral phenomenon is the same of many non-scientists.

There are two ways that auroras may be formed. Most auroras are formed when excited electrons collide with oxygen or nitrogen or if protons collide with nitrogen or oxygen. Electrons which are lighter and have a lot of energy result in the traditional, dancing auroras. Electron auroras emit light at many wavelengths including 630nm (red) and 427.9nm (blue). The second way that auroras can form is when protons collide with nitrogen and oxygen. The proton collisions result in emissions of 656.3nm (red) and 486.1nm (blue) (Lummerzheim et al. 2001).  Separation of these light bands are difficult because at 656.3 the emissions require a precise instrument to differentiate them from the electron aurora. The same can be said of the emissions at 486.1 which are nearly indiscernible from the electron emissions.  To quote Neal Brown’s response in the aurora group, “To prove it is a true proton arc one would have to use some sort of spectral discrimination to see if it contained only 656.3 and 486.1 nm emissions”. Aurora researcher Jason Ahrms had this to say in a detailed Facebook post – “We don’t use color, location in the sky, how long it’s been there, or anything like that to identify a proton aurora.”. This means that simply looking at an aurora with your eyes is not enough to determine if it is a proton arc – so why is it so commonly mislabeled. The mistake is likely an innocent use of scientific jargon; those posting the images (like me) simply did a brief search to confirm what they saw before spreading the lie themselves.

A chart of the light spectrum. Copyright : http://techlib.com/images/optical.jpg
A chart of the light spectrum. Copyright : http://techlib.com/images/optical.jpg


The Aurora Borealis shows off a pale display in Hoonah, Alaska which is often identified a "Proton Arc"
The Aurora Borealis shows off a pale display in Hoonah, Alaska which is often identified a “Proton Arc”

Although it is impossible to detect a proton aurora with your eyes, they have been successfully photographed once identified with instrumentation. Tony Phillips of Spaceweather.com discussed the phenomena with University of Alaska Fairbanks Researcher Jason Arhns.  His image below shows how difficult true differentiation between electron and proton aurora is. Where the proton arc has been identified is barely discernible from the aurora.

This proton arc was captured by Jason Ahrns of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The region fo the proton arc was determined from spectral instruments, but as you can see it is very similiar in form to electron auroras. Image copy right to Spaceweather.com

It was interesting to realize that my perception of what a proton arc was had been so wrongfully influenced by what I saw online. However, if the pale auroras being captured by photographers (like the photos below) are not truly proton arcs, what are they? Incredibly, as Jason Ahrns explains, to date there are is no known explanation for these pale, elusive aurora displays! They are a new opportunity for scientific exploration in the aurora research arena. I hope they keep us posted.




Lummerzheim, D., M. Galand, and M. Kubota. “Optical emissions from proton aurora.” Proc. of Atmospheric Studies by Optical Methods 1 (2001): 6.



Aurora Nostalgia : A season of Aurora Footage

The days are getting darker here in Fairbanks, Alaska and it is that darkness which has turned my thoughts to the Northern Lights. I can recollect the nights I spent out last winter like a hazy dream. However, reviewing old blog entries brings back the sensation and awe of each experience of dancing greens, yellows, reds, and blues of the aurora which highlighted many nights.

The video above is a compilation of my shooting from the 2013 – 2014 season. I am extraordinarily blessed to witness what I did, and watching this video stirs up many emotions (all of them good, of course). I must say the musical back-drop provided by Enya is profound to me. I hope you will find this footage of one of Nature’s Great Marvels as enjoyable and inspiring as I do.

Last winter presented a steep learning curve for viewing and photographing the aurora. However, this season will bring further improvements to my shooting experience by designing a better insulation system for my camera, and obtaining a lens speed booster which increases the f-stop of the lens and increases its field of view. What more could an Aurora photographer want!

For individual aurora photos and videos you can always visit the main Aurora Page or the posts (links below). Although the “aurora season” means long, dark days too, I cannot say that I am not looking forward to it!

Black Spruce Kennel Aurora

Tanana Aurora

Murphy Dome Aurora

Murphy Dome Aurora 2

Ester Dome Aurora

Where were you?

Hello Readers,

We always associate certain pivotal life events with the places where we were; the events we remember often have very similar themes. Where was your first kiss? Where were you when you found out you were pregnant? Where were you when your grandmother died? Where were you when your son was born? There are points in our life so significant that we can remember the color of the walls, what she was wearing, how fresh the grass was cut and if we enjoyed the food. We can smell, sense, hear, touch, feel the environment we were in. We may even reach out when thinking about it in an almost trance.  These events in life tie us together because they are part of being human and human nature.

Today is 9/11/2013 and we all know what happened 12 years ago. But where were you? I know that’s really the question that everyone asks when we talk about this event. It’s the only way many of can relate to it. We weren’t there to feel the fear, the uncertainty, the death, the ash, and see the bravery. So, we connect to it any way we can. I personally was in Mr. Hanson’s math class. It was 8th grade and I had never heard of the Trade Centers. I remember watching with curiosity trying to understand why the event was so important to me that class had been postponed so we could watch. I have to thank the naiveness of my mid-western, rural upbringing to even think “it must be an accident” when the first plane hit. When the second plane smashed into the towers I did not even understand the significance of ‘terroristic act’.  I understand now how lucky I was/am, because at my age of 14, there are so many people who do know, and it fills their lives with constant fear.

Today’s ceremonies and memorial services remembered those who gave their lives. They also acknowledged our ground forces in the middle east and the ongoing conflict Syria which has left 10’s of thousands dead with no end in sight.  However, I think remembering 9/11 should also cause you to think further than the US border.  I think that remembering 9/11 should also bring you closer to those current events which still haunt, torment and demean people everywhere.  Where were they the day their families and lives were changed by terrorist acts? As you go through your daily lives please take time to remember where you were and what that means to you.

As part of my thoughts on 9/11 today Amazing Grace came into my head; it actually is what drove me to even write this blog in the first place.  I find it to be one of the most moving songs and entirely applicable to the world around us. I sat and thought about world events as I played over and over on my guitar. I recorded the piece below and  the lyrics are as follow (not that you don’t know them):

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Amazing Grace – Ian Johnson Cover

So, I don’t want this to be too melancholy, but I hope meditate on where you were and use it to connect you to the world around you. I would love to hear where you were in the comments below!