Death Valley time-lapse captures rare (and beautiful) southern aurora


posted Friday, May 17, 2013 at 3:49 PM EDT

Desert aurora over Death Valley National Park, California on March 17th. 2013. Believed to be related to a CME (Coronal Mass Eruption) solar event that night, which likely triggered what we see. (Photo by Gavin Heffernan)

Normally, to catch a view of the aurora, you either need to be pretty far in the Northern latitudes to see the aurora borealis, or equally far South to view the aurora australis. But a film crew making a time-lapse in the famously inhospitable Death Valley managed to catch an extremely rare glimpse of an aurora many miles away from where you'd usually expect to see it.

This was actually the second trip by Sunchaser Pictures into Death Valley, this time going into Racetrack Playa, home of the bizarre sailing stones. The video (below) captures some incredible skyscapes, including merging time-lapse footage with star trails. But by far the most interesting is the vivid red aurora that springs up at 1:36 and 2:22 in the clip.

It turns out that in March of this year, there was an unusually large Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) from the Sun. These CME's happen frequently, and when they hit have been linked to more frequent and bright auroroas. In this case, March 17th saw an unusually large one hit the Earth's magnetic field, which resulted in an unusually vivid aurora in a place that would almost never see it otherwise.

The time-lapse itself was shot using two Canon 5D Mark II cameras, with 24mm f/1.4 and 28mm f/1.8 lenses. You can see more behind the scenes information in a short video the team made.

(via DIY Photography)