Waiting for Aurora


The space weather forecast included the possibility of a geomagnetic storm last night. Since I’ve never had any luck finding anyone to work via auroral propagation (it’s becoming a lost art) I decided to take off my ham radio hat and put on my photography hat. I programmed up the cameras and tweaked their intervalometer settings. I loaded all the gear into the car and headed up the mountain to one of my favorite “dark areas”, a small lake way out in the boonies.

A hundred or so time-exposed frames netted a lot of high-altitude jet traffic, which made some interesting dotted-line patterns, a smear of light pollution from St Marys some 18 miles beyond the horizon, thousands of bright stars, and this shot of a meteor under the Big Dipper.

But no aurora.IMGP0043

I had the place all to myself. Not another human being for miles. The cell phone showed “NO SIGNAL”. The radio was receiving a good number of repeaters on 2 meters and UHF at full scale S/meter readings, when I keyed them up. Interesting how our volunteer-provided infrastructure provides radio coverage where there is no other means of communications. Score some points for Amateur Radio!

In the silence, I could hear various critters working the night shift. The occasional fish would break the surface of the lake with a loud plop and splash. Deer made tiny sounds while disturbing twigs and branches as they foraged nearby. In the distance, an elk trumpeted several times. From another direction came a reply.

Finally, the sky started to brighten in the east. Aurora? No, it was moonbeams, presaging the inevitability of the rising half-moon in a few minutes. “Well, there goes the dark sky,” I thought to myself. The moon can easily overpower any aurora.

I packed up my stuff and headed home. A half-hour later, I was pulling into the driveway, in time for the news. My phone came alive with an “Aurora Alert.” I looked up, through the sky brightened by the city lights. Nothing to see but the moon and light pollution. I went inside and turned on the VHF gear. Too late. All good hams had turned off the radios and gone to bed.

So did I.

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