The Northern Lights Appear

Yup, another anchor watch. Quite possibly my last anchor watch of this summer adventure…and what a watch.

I came on watch just before 1am. Right at 1, I popped up on deck to see if the night had turned dark enough to see some stars. Saturn had been blazing in the northeast twilight when I went to sleep and there he was again, this time more toward the southeastern corner of the sky. Polaris, the north star, was visible, more directly overhead than I’ve ever seen it before. And several other stars were also visible — mostly bright stars, as the sky to the north was still the deep orange of twilight. At this hour, night time had deepened to as dark as it was going to get.

But it was dark enough. As I turned to head below, I ventured one more look toward the east and there it was: the aurora. The northern lights, dancing overhead in a curtain of fluorescent green. A couple of curls radiated along a northeast-to-southwest axis, and a brief tinge of purple appeared. As with Polaris, this aurora was more directly overhead than I’d ever experienced it before, a testimony to the fact that this summer has seen me journey farther north than I’ve been in my life. Above the ridge to the west, just ashore of the anchored Polar Bear, another node of aurora undulated in the deep blue sky, keeping time to whatever unheard (by me) rhythm the universe was tapping out.

I quickly returned to the cabin to wake the German photographers (they’d asked to be awakened in case of an auroral display) and my predecessor on anchor watch woke his wife as well. Even Boogie popped his head topside briefly. I also grabbed my camera bag, but the display was all too brief: five, maybe 10 minutes, tops. By the time I had my rig set up, the northern lights were quiet again, and the stars shone on again in solitude. But oh…it was enough.

I get all choked up when seeing any fleeting and beautiful natural phenomena. Make it astronomical — a hobby of mine since boyhood — and throw in the latitudinal bias of the aurora and the northern lights are a treat I will never tire of. So to see the aurora in this particularly unique (to me) setting on the final night of our stay in Greenland, and toss in the fact that it turned on just as I was coming on watch and well, you’ll excuse me if I don’t feel more than a little privileged and honored to have been granted such a show.

I stayed topside for the entire hour, the frosted decks and chill air no challenge for the glow I was feeling from the brief appearance of the aurora. I shot a few twilight photos, and then a few of the sliver of moon as it rose over the ridge to the northeast after Boogie came on watch at 2am, and here I am jotting these thoughts at 3am. It’s time now for me to head back to sleep, but wow. Wow, wow, wow. I am suitably buzzed at this evening’s events.

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