Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My First Aurora Australis

I wanted to wait a few more days to post more photos, but after last night I simply can't wait.

I was in a hurry to leave McMurdo and get out to a small hut on the McMurdo Ice Shelf called Square Frame.  Square Frame is a large insulated box with a few windows that sits on top of a man-made snow drift and contains a few beds, a couch, a heater, propane stove and card table.  It is maintained by the Kiwis, but is set aside for one weekend a month for the Americans to use.  The USAP used to have a hut near here called the A-Frame, but that blew away in a storm years ago and I think the Kiwis decided to mock us by putting up the Square Frame.  No one else signed up on Saturday night so we got the place to ourselves.   

Square Frame with Mt Erebus in the background

The sun set about an hour before we arrived at Square Frame, but the few clouds in the sky were still highlighted in orange.  The rumors of auroras and a meteor shower (and a clear night) left me eagerly anticipating the darkness.

One of my first Milky Way & aurora photos
It was great to be out of McMurdo and again enjoy the simplicity of no electricity or internet.  To pass through the twilight hours I beat Liz in a few games of cribbage and started watching the movie Encounters At the End of the World.  It's a movie about the people who work at USAP and about being down here.  After spending the last six and a half months down here I could only shake my head at what Werner Herzog (director & narrator) had to say about his little bit of time down here.  I would highly recommend watching the movie on mute with some great music in place of his negative tone and terribly accented dialog.

Just like a little kid, every few minutes I would get up and run to the window to see how dark it was outside and see how many stars were out or if the auroras were starting yet.  

New Zealand's Scott Base and the aurora 
Finally it came to the point that I decided it was either dark enough or I couldn't handle Herzog's voice anymore and it was time to go outside and take some photos.  It took some time to set our cameras and layers of clothing ready to go.  

Amazingly there was no wind and the temperature felt fairly warm (for Antarctica) so it was pleasant to stand around outside for awhile.  I imagined some of the photos that could be taken, but I had no idea what would actually show up in my camera after that first shot.  I've always drooled over photos of the Milky Way and auroras.  After recently doing some research I had an idea of how to capture them.  But what appeared on the cold, tiny LCD screen blew me away.  I wanted to keep taking the same photos over and over again just to prove to myself that these photos were real.  

I went back in to warm up and finish the movie and prepared to head out again.  I wanted to take photos throughout the night, but wanted to get some sleep also.  I hooked up a remote and put that in a mitten filled with hand warmers.  I also put hand and toe warmers all over the camera (concentrated around the battery) and wrapped the whole set up in a Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket, MicroPuff Jacket, DAS Parka and a pair of puffy pants.  I set the camera to take 30 second exposures with 30 seconds in between for 180 shots.  I didn't think the batteries would last that long.  This worked!  I'll put together a time lapse movie of what happened and post it soon.

One of the photos that my camera captured while I was asleep.
If this is just a glimpse of what the winter has to offer I'm even more excited about the darkness and trying to hone my star and aurora photography skills.

This was a learning experience.  I think I know how to do it better next time!

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