Chasing the Northern Lights on New Year’s Eve in Labrador

Northern Lights over Goose Bay during New Year's Eve 2016 with boyfriend watching from back of truck.

Whenever I come to Labrador I endure my fiancé’s ruthless teasing that I have never seen the northern lights. He brings it up all the time. We’d be out having supper with family or a beer with his high school friends and in the middle of conversation he’d stop, motion to me, and with wide eyes exclaim, “Did you know Mel has never seen the northern lights?”

To which I reply, “It’s not that uncommon! We don’t get them in Nova Scotia.” (or anywhere else I’ve travelled besides Labrador, really).

The two times I’ve been to Labrador we didn’t get them. I guess third time’s the charm.

Last night was New Year’s Eve. We were bridging the gap between 2015 and 2016. It just so happened that a very convenient solar storm was taking place in the sky above us. We thought they might be out, but didn’t want to get our hopes up. But, on our way to pick his sister up from the airport that night.

Mel: “I see them! I see the northern lights!”

There they were! Like stars falling on slow motion, stretching green and blue across the sky.

After having dinner with his family I got my tripod and we jumped in the truck to get outside of town so that we could see the lights better. The less light pollution, the better the colors.

Rob was driving so I could look at the lights dance in the sky. They’re so sneaky! The way they move and dance and snake across. There was no hard edge to the light, so watching them move was almost like a trick of the eye. Did they move? Or was it you? Wait… now they’re gone! It was like watching a candle flicker behind a veil.

Science

Full disclosure: I’m not quite sure how they work. I know they’re clouds of magnetic energy that are drawn to the earth’s magnetic poles. I don’t know why they show up as certain colours. If you do, please tell me in the comments!

The magnetic North Pole is in northern Canada. Somewhere near Ellesmere Island, although it moves every year. Ellesmere Island is still about 3,000 kilometres from Goose Bay, but it’s significantly closer (and more remote) than anywhere else north I’ve been,

Once we found a dark clearing on a road outside town I set up my tripod and Rob started whistling to the lights.

Mythology

In this part of the world, legend has it that the lights of the aurora borealis are the spirits of our ancestors. And if you whistle to them, they’ll come down to visit you… or drag you to the afterlife, depending on which version of the story you hear.

Northern Lights over Goose Bay during New Year's Eve 2016
So, I’ve now seen the aurora borealis. Thanks 2016. Good start.

Northern Lights over Goose Bay during New Year's Eve 2016

Although, even after I’d seen them on the way to the airport, when we picked up his sister and were taking her luggage back to the car, he turned to her and said, “Did you know Mel has never seen the northern lights… until tonight?”

I’ll never escape being a northern n00b.

9 comments on “Chasing the Northern Lights on New Year’s Eve in Labrador

  1. Anonymous

    Nice job Mel! So glad the Northern Lights came out for you while you were visiting us! Happy 2016.

    • Mel Hattie

      Thank you! I’m so glad I caught them. Definitely the best way to start the year.

  2. Anonymous

    So glad you got to see them. I can’t count how many times I laid back on the skidoo seat to just watch… And whistle 🙂

  3. Awesome pics. What was the secret to photographing he lights so effectively?

    • Mel Hattie

      The biggest thing is to have a tripod and a camera with BULB mode (where you can make the exposure last as long as you want). Most of these are between a 30-40 second exposure. Also, a lens that you can easily manually focus on ‘infinity’. Some lenses have distance markings by the focus rings. The marking that looks like “∞” means infinity (what you want to use with things really far off). Trying to get the focus right was actually the hardest thing here and these aren’t perfect by any means. Because it’s pitch black you have no idea whether your image is actually really in focus until after you shoot it so there was a lot of trial and error to get them in focus. That’s probably my best advice – oh! And don’t use AUTO ISO! Set your ISO yourself. I think these are all either 200 or 400. Do you like to shoot too?

  4. Ahhh, so beautiful. My dad used to drive us out on the Komotik and we’d go to the forest and watch them overhead. We’d always whistle to get them to come closer and it seemed to work! I’m glad you got to experience the magic 🙂

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