Aurora borealis. The REASON we chose to go to Churchill, Canada in the middle of the winter was to see the northern lights.
And they did not disappoint. We had 4 nights to view them and the aurora danced for us all 4 nights.
"Aurora" refers to the Roman goddess of the dawn; "Borealis" is the Greek god of the north wind. Ancient peoples came up with lots of explanations and legends for what we call the "northern lights"...in fact, the Innuits who live just north of where we were in Churchill saw it as a huge soccer-type game in the sky, with heavenly beings kicking around a walrus skull.
It hasn't been until the last 50 years or so that scientists have found an explanation for what creates these amazing shifting colors in the sky. I'm no scientist (I just like to take pictures!), but we did learn the basics on what causes the aurora. The sun constantly sends out solar flares and wind. Thankfully for us, God placed a strong magnetic shield around our planet Earth which deflects most of them from making a direct hit. But at the northern and southern poles, some of those that wrapped around get mixed in with the earth's atmosphere, colliding with oxygen and nitrogen mostly, and getting those molecules all excited which creates the ever-changing display we see in the sky.
There is also a "southern lights" counterpart near the south pole, but seldom is there anyone around to see it.
And even though the aurora can be up in the sky at any time, it has to be a clear dark sky to be able to see them. In mid-winter Churchill has some of the clearest, darkest skies in the world, which makes it an optimal place to see the aurora.
So after our daytime adventures around Churchill, around 8 pm. each night we would head out to our viewing spot for the night, a different place each night. And we'd set up our cameras and wait for the show, staying there until midnight or after, until Aurora quit dancing for us.
The first night we went back to our dog-sledding friend Dave Daley's at Wapusk Adventures for our first views of the lights. While it didn't turn out to be our most spectacular show, it was the most special to me because of where I was and my first time experiencing this show I'd dreamed of seeing all my life. Truly just INCREDIBLE!!!
The second night we went to the Aurora Pod, a specially-made glass-topped viewing station. Inside it was cozy and warm, with plenty of room to sit and lots of coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks. Kim spent most of the evening watching the aurora from there.
But the view from outside was breath-taking and nothing short of MAGNIFICENT!
At one point it was straight overhead, stretching from one horizon to the other. I took this shot looking straight up!
While the most common color in auroras is the ethereal green, other colors sometimes mix in as well. That night we saw some reds, pinks, and purples join the dance.
Our guide Eddy took this shot of Kim and me...
Our third night we viewed the northern lights from the Aurora Domes building, which has these two little see-through domes. I wasn't crazy about this venue, but did get some great photos of the aurora.
That area of light on the horizon is the town of Churchill...
The crazy thing about the northern lights is that they are constantly changing, shifting, twisting themselves into different designs. It's truly hard to even capture the awesomeness with a photo when the whole sky seems to be swirling above and around you!
I did not take any aurora photos our last night. We were at the Goose Creek cabin and the skies were a bit cloudy until about 11:30 pm. I had already packed away my camera equipment by then, so that last night in Churchill I just stood and watched and soaked it all in. At long last, I had experienced the magic of the northern lights! It all seemed surreal!
It was a dream-come-true for Kim (in photo above) and me, seeing with our own little eyes...
...the aurora dancing.