Chasing Aurora Borealis; How Does One Accomplish This Feat?

It all started a few weeks back when a guy on Instagram that I follow started posting these elaborate images of Aurora Borealis with spectacular colours or pink and white hues. I’d never seen something so mystical and beautiful in the skies.

Previously when we lived out west of the “Big City” we would catch glimpses of the Northern Lights when driving between small communities where the “Big City” lights did not reach the atmosphere and you could see the darkness in the sky.

Its here on these short commutes that I pondered on those nights when I would see the mystical Aurora Borealis!

Aurora Borealis is a natural light display in the Earth’s sky, predominantly seen in high-latitude regions in an irregularly shaped oval centred over each magnetic pole (Arctic and Antarctica).

blah blah and Northern Lights Centre, Watson, Yukon Canada

As such I reached out to the Instagramer to ask where he saw these wonderful pink-hued Northern Lights and to my SURPRISE he said, “To the Northeast of the City. We live near Fort Sask.”

My heart thumped in my chest!

Are you kidding me! That’s twenty minutes from where I live!

Quickly I looked up a handful of apps about forecasting the probability of Aurora Borealis. There were around fifteen apps all claiming to provide the raw data and an alert to see the Northern Light. I decided to choose an app called: Aurora by J Ruston Apps.

The app has 2 versions, free and Pro. For a minimal fee of $2.89 it would unlock a handful of additional features. Unsure what those were, I stuck to the free app for the following reasons;

  • Aurora by J Ruston Apps
    • #2 top free weather app
    • 500,000+ downloads
    • released 18 Feb 2016
    • last update 3 April 2021
    • Current KP Index
    • Aurora Map
    • Best Locations Now
    • Viewing Probability
    • Sun shots

Without knowing what I was supposed to be looking for in the app’s information, I started watching the data change day in and day out, until this past Friday night April 17, when the app alerted the KP Index was 4.45 and there was a 37% chance of seeing the Aurora.

Aurora Pro, pay $2.89 to unlock extra features

By 11:22pm the app was predicting a 57% chance to see the Northern Lights. Quickly we packed up my backpack with snacks, water, camera (Olympus Tough 860), mini-tripod (Joby Gorilla pod), Arc’tyrex outer shell jacket, toque, gloves and the trusty Samsung Note9. Grabbing the Tacoma keys, I kissed the wife and said, “I will be back in a couple of hours.” and out the door I went.

We sped off onto the Whitemud Highway 14, heading East thinking we would reach the Anthony Hendey and drive out to Elk Island National Park. nearing the next highway we decided why do that just drive East until you reach dark skies!

Passing by highway 216 the road we were on changed into township range road 522 as we sped off in search of the Aurora Borealis. Within fifteen minutes the clouds above began shimmering and a low green hue spread out above us.

We searched for a spot to pull off the roadway then came across a car on the edge of the range road their hazard lights pulsating away in the post-midnight minutes watching the green hues mix with its white edges.

My heart throbbed as the display of Aurora Borealis, was literally twenty minutes from home!

Less than a kilometre away from the car on the shoulder we spotted a second road and pulled over killing the engine and hoping out of the Tacoma with cameras in hand. First I took a handful of photos with the Samsung Note9 in night mode then switched over to the Olympus and tripod. The instant results showed a faint green hue which was nothing like what my eyes were observing and we understood all night images would require fine tuning to bring up the beautiful Northern Lights!

(c) JacksonCrabb Photography 2021

First images down, we hopped back into the Tacoma and continued East down the unknown road. As I drove further and further into the countryside I was spotting random cars sitting here and there with their headlights off and their hazard blinkers blinking. They too were possibly out chasing the night sky into the wee hours of the morning.

Would it be better to just find one dark location and sit? I pondered this thought as I sped off into the post midnight hours. Soon I located a darker location and the lights danced all around the hood of the Tacoma. Stepping out of the truck I spotted a beautiful silhouette of trees against the clouds light up from the City Lights. Snapping a few photos, I spun on my heels to face the East where the green Northern Lights danced before the hood of my truck!

Laughing I hopped back into the Tacoma and drove aimlessly into the darkened countryside searching for the next stopping location. Pulling over we spotted on the map our relative closeness to Elk Island National Park and decided to check it out.

Instantly we regretted this decision as there was a plethora of vehicles coming out of the park and taillights going into it. Screw it! I thought then flipped a U-turn in the middle of the road and departed the dark sky reserves.

At the highway we turned East drove a few kilometres further down the road and turned left (North) as the green hues began spewing out of the skies above. Up the range road we drove spitting dirt and gravel below the Tacoma. Soon we were sitting in pitch darkness and withdrew the cameras.

(c) JacksonCrabb Photography 2021

Green hues oozed through the dark clouds above providing the most spectacular view of the early morning hours! A couple of *snaps* later my eyes weary from driving and photographing I decided to call it a night at 2:37am and make the forty-five minute drive home.

~ Aaron JacksonCrabb