The northern lights (aurora borealis) were forecast to make a rare appearance in Pennsylvania this past Saturday night, so I set out with some friends to make some photographs. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t very cooperative, with plenty of clouds obstructing our view. Using our iPhones to keep an eye on cloud movement, we arrived at Lackawanna State Park, north of Scranton, just as the clouds started to break. But the northern lights we were seeking remained out of sight. Deciding to wait around to see if the clouds would break up some more, we got out of the car and started taking some shots to pass the time. To our surprise, our cameras captured what our eyes couldn’t.
A friend questioned if what we captured was indeed the northern lights, and not just some earth lights reflecting on the clouds. I’m not 100% sure, but I am inclined towards believing these are in fact the northern lights for the following reasons:
- These photos were taken facing north, and I can’t think of anything north of Lackawanna State Park (even after consulting Google maps satellite view) that would give off this much light in that direction.
- Outdoor lights are usually sodium vapor, which give off more of a yellow/orange glow that is not evidenced here.
- The northern horizon is where the northern lights were expected to be sighted and the last report we received that evening was that the peak activity was expected around midnight. We were at this location between 11:30-1:30.
- According to Accuweather, the northern lights on Saturday night weren’t as intense as hoped, but reports were received from parts of Canada, Vermont, New York, and Maine. This would be consistent with the lights appearing only on the distant horizon.
- There was concern that the northern lights aren’t bright enough to shine through clouds, but a quick search with Google Images brings up a few images showing auroras shining through clouds.
- The strength of the light also varied during the time I was shooting, which wouldn’t be expected if they were earth lights.
Overall visibility in the mid-Atlantic on Saturday night was poor due to cloud cover. With nothing to see with the naked eye, perhaps we were among the few (or only ones) in PA to take long exposures of the dark sky? Or maybe not. I wish I could know for certain. I’ve seen auroras before — I used to live out on the Canadian prairies (way back) & have some terrific memories. In comparison, this was definitely underwhelming. But still pretty cool for around here.
What do you think?