How fast do auroras move?

I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights. Before Iceland I had only seen a slight glow in the sky of Alaska. There are lots of timelapse videos on the internet but it’s hard to get a sense of speed given they have sped up the video so fast. My brother in law was also curious about how fast auroras move and asked me to get a real time video. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to given I didn’t know how bright they’d be. You have to have a shutter speed of at least 1/30th of a second to shoot video which is 900x less light than most of the 30 second exposures you see of auroras. But I gave it a shot. I cranked the ISO all the way up and used the fastest lens I could rent on one of the best low light DSLRs currently made. Here’s one of the clips I shot of a pretty large solar storm hitting the earth. I saw it dance and shimmer faster than this a few times and slower than this a lot.

Real time Aurora video – Iceland 2013-03-17 from Bryn Forbes on Vimeo.

What verbs come to mind to describe the way it moves to you?


2 Responses to “How fast do auroras move?”

  1. Very slow and ethereal.

    It suggests it might be worthwhile in that situation experimenting with high ISO, a fast lens and a fast shutter speed in a photograph to see how much detail you can get and how different it looks from the longer exposures. You could then do a lot of noise reduction on the sky and combine it with a longer exposure for the ground.

    • It definitely does affect it. I have still images with shutter speeds ranging from .5 seconds to 30 seconds, The longer exposures creater a smooth color tone filling more of the sky, and the shorter have more edges and detail. Of course you start being distracted by the noise. Noise reduction eliminates a lot of the details (as it’s subtle shifts between highly saturated shades of green)

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