A rare proton arc…

was what appeared in the night sky alongside the aurora borealis!

Proton Arc and Aurora Borealis-2975
Proton Arc, Northern Idaho, USA

To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Proton Arc and Aurora Borealis-2958
Proton Arc, Northern Idaho, USA
Proton Arc and Aurora Borealis-2986
Aurora Borealis, Northern Idaho, USA
Proton Arc and Aurora Borealis-2-2
Proton Arc, Northern Idaho, USA

“GET IN THE JEEP” I shouted to my husband, “I need you to take me to the lake right now!”

Moments earlier…

Not being able to sleep and unable to concentrate on the book I was reading I started checking my apps to see what I might be able to see in the night sky. The moon wouldn’t be a problem and for once the skies looked like they would be clear.

There was an expectation that in a couple of days we might be seeing the northern lights so I was looking forward to that having been shut out by clouds from seeing the Eta Aquariids meteor shower. When the aurora app showed a pretty distinct area of red I jumped out of bed and ran for my camera and tripod.

I quickly dialed in some settings, plunked the tripod down on the deck and took a test shot to the north, I could see that there were light fluctuations but my eyes had not yet adapted to the dark.

Sure enough, aurora borealis, and looking strong! Turning around I looked up and saw flowing from east to west overhead the most incredible arc. I didn’t know what it was, having never seen one before, but I knew that it was one of those moments not to be wasted. I had no idea how long it would last and wanted to get into an area that was not rimmed by towering cedars and grand fir to photograph it.

I didn’t bother to change out of my pj’s but threw a hoodie on to ward off the night temperatures.

Firing off shots to document overhead and to the west I yelled at my husband to hurry, which thankfully he did, ignoring my agitation and occasional expletive.

With camera already attached to the tripod I leaped from the jeep and ran to the water’s edge to start shooting.

And then the magic began…

I wish that I’d had a recording of the animals that night. On other occasions while photographing strong aurora events I’ve noted their heightened response to these energetic events. Bullfrogs croaked in deep, vibratory tones, coyotes howled, two different species of owls hooted, and a grebe’s haunting notes echoed from across the lake.

The aurora borealis themselves were spectacular, but the arc, that was simply unforgettable. My search for confirmation of the proton arc had me reaching out in many directions (thank you Lucy, my go to person for night sky questions!)

A proton arc occurs when massive protons ejected by a solar event bombard the earth’s atmosphere…and they’re rare events.

This is exactly why I shoot every day under all conditions. There wasn’t time to mess around with settings and fiddle with focus. This was a time to hit the ground shooting, quick check of the histogram and take full advantage of an opportunity that I might never see again.

Trifecta…new moon, clear skies, proton arc.

I’m a lucky girl.

10 thoughts on “A rare proton arc…”

    1. Thank you, it certainly was. He was great about it after I asked him how many times have I ever asked him to drive me on these nocturnal adventures? I wanted to be able to concentrate on taking the images without having to “watch my back” at the same time! A lot of wildlife out here…

  1. This was so exciting to read, it felt like Hemmingway. Action, terse observation but it really sucked me in and I was excited by the arc as well. Great writing AND great photography. It makes me want to jump out of bed at 2am….uh, nevermind.

  2. No better person to capture it! I’d have been floundering with my equipment. It reminds me of a twisted rope – what a privilege of a viewing…

  3. How wonderful! I love to look at other folk’s photos of the ABs. Actually capturing the spectacle myself…on my short list! 💫

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