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Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

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Hong Kong, China
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Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

Hi Folks,

Schedule to arrive Fairbanks in early Oct and hope will be lucky and able to see the aurora. Please advice place in Fairbanks where I can escape the city light and see the northern light.. Safety is also my concern. Is it safe or do I worry too much to stay in a dark and deserted place a whole night to wait for the northern light? All kind of advices are welcomed. Thanks.

Beer2007

Manitoba, Canada
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1. Re: Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

Hi Beer2007, welcome to the forum.

Lots of info available at these links, including good places to try to view the aurora near Fairbanks and, if you click some of the links, camera settings to photograph them: …alaska.edu/Curtis/aurora/aurora.html

fairbanks-alaska.com/northern-lights-alaska.…

Be sure to dress warmly (hat and gloves, maybe a blanket) and perhaps take a hot beverage or soup in an insulated flask. Not that the temps will be bitterly cold at that time of year, but it will get below freezing and if you're standing still for a while you can get pretty cold. Of course, you can just sit in your car while you're waiting and run the heater from time to time, but unless the wind is bad, it will be much more enjoyable spending at least some of your time outside looking at the stars. Maybe you'll see a few meteors. (FYI, the next meteor "shower" is due Oct. 21, the Orionids: http://stardate.org/nightsky/meteors/, so maybe keep that in mind when you're back home.)

Personally, I wouldn't be worried about safety, but if that's a concern for you, you can still view the aurora right in the city of Fairbanks. Find an area that is away from the lights (maybe a park or schoolground). Here in Winnipeg (many times larger than Fairbanks and with a lot more lights and smog) I've viewed the aurora many times from my own back yard. The fainter displays are harder to see, but a bright display you can see from anywhere.

No guarantees that you'll see any aurora, of course, but I wish you luck!

Boise, Idaho, U.S.A.
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2. Re: Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

If you have a rental car, part of your rental agreement will be to drive only on paved roads. There should be some safe turnoffs on Steese Highway and Chena Hotsprings Rd. It's a good idea to scout locations during the day. Avoid deep snow or steep slopes where you can get stuck. Avoid entering downhill slopes that require you to go uphill to escape. It's possible to get stuck fighting an uphill, although there's an increased risk of skidding on downhills. If you try an uphill and are getting stuck, you can probably back down from it.

Assuming that you have rented a car at the airport, you might make your first stop at Fred Meyer. Buy a few road flares and a cheap floor mat. The floor mat might help you if you get stuck. I haven't actually tried that., but I did buy one just in case.

If you want to photograph auroras you will need a tripod. If you have a prosumer camera, use manual settings, white balance on daylight, widest aperture and longest exposure, and manual focus at infinity. I'd recommend ISO 400. You could try higher ISO's, but you might not gain anything but noise. Expect your picture to be grainy. If you have a DSLR you could start at 15 seconds and go longer from there. A point and shoot may get you some kind of picture on night mode.

Light pollution reduces the contrast of the aurora, but it does provide some illumination of your foreground for a pleasing photograph. Even if your photograph is not a masterpiece, it will be interesting how a long exposure captures more color than your night vision can.

Boise, Idaho, U.S.A.
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3. Re: Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

Oh, I forgot to mention, there is a downside to trying to capture the aurora with long exposures. The aurora is dynamic, so it may turn into a blurry blob with increased exposure time. This is one of the reasons people travel to see it with their own eyes instead of just looking at pictures.

Hong Kong, China
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4. Re: Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

Thanks Folks.

Yup, actually I have some preparation work for the photo gears. Like camera, tripod, spare batteries and etc. Weather forecast in Fairbanks at present moment is cloudy and not that cold - around 25 to 30 at night time. May be due to global warming snow is not arrived yet. The road condition hopefully will not be that bad.

I will drive straight to Fred Mayor once I've got the rental car. ^_^

Thanks again and wish me luck to see the northern light.

Manitoba, Canada
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5. Re: Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

"The floor mat might help you if you get stuck. I haven't actually tried that"

Something I've done in the past is to keep a couple of pieces of carpet (about 2 ft. square, you can buy them at WalMart or Dollar stores) in the car, along with a few nails (1 inch) and a small hammer. Put the carpet in front of the drive wheels and hammer a couple of nails through it into the ice. That holds the carpet still to give the wheels traction. Accelerate slowly or you'll just tear the nails out. Once you get going, keep going until you find a safe (non-icy) place to stop to go back for the carpet and nails.

But that's when you have thick ice. Chances are at this time of year you will have only thin ice and hopefully none at all. Nails won't work then, but you can still try putting the carpet down and slowly accelerating. Sometimes that's enough.

If you have a cell phone with you, you can always call for help. You won't be that far from town. As long as you bring along lots to keep you warm in case of emergency, you'll be fine.

I don't know how much experience you have driving on ice. If it rains and freezes at night, that can be dangerous. Drive slowly, no sudden turns or hard braking, leave lots of room between you and the next car. If you've never driven on ice, or not for quite some time, find a large parking lot with an empty corner and drive around in it until you get the feel of driving on ice. It can be really scary at first. If you get into a skid, don't overreact with the steering wheel, and remember to look WHERE you want to go. If you look at something you're hoping to avoid (a tree for example), sure as shootin you'll steer yourself right into it.

And if there's not much traffic around, if there is a gravel shoulder you can "cheat" and keep one set of wheels on the gravel for traction. I drove most of the way from Winnipeg to Brandon like that one winter, passing several cars that were in the ditch. Took almost 5 hours instead of 2.5, but I got there in one piece.

So...amending my wishes for you for clear roads, clear skies and a lovely aurora to make your trip a success! Do let us know how it turned out. :-)

Fairbanks, Alaska
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6. Re: Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

In October, the roads will still be fine. If you go north of town on the Steese Hwy about 3 miles out of town there is a cross road named Haggleberger Ave. Turn left. There is an immediate turn right into a pullout overlooking the town. It's a good spot for viewing the aurora.

Hong Kong, China
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7. Re: Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

Thanks 1stimestar for the tips.

Again the silly question from my wife last night. Is it safe to stay in the dark to wait for the aurora? She wants some safety advices on a general view from locals. Thanks a lot!!

Fairbanks, Alaska
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8. Re: Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

If you are going to the outskirts of town, yes, very safe. Most parks and school yards after dark are also very safe. While we do have a population of downtown intoxicated people, mostly they keep to themselves and each other. The area of South Cushman is not too nice, south of Airport Way. You can look at a map of Fairbanks and see where I am talking about. Also keep in mind, it will be cold out, not too many people wondering around out in the cold in the middle of the night.

If she is very concerned, then you can always stay at a place that specializes in aurora viewing and go with a group. Chena Hot Springs Resort has thousands of visitors a year just to watch the auroras. When you decide which hotel you will be staying at, or while making your choice, you can ask them if they have wake up calls for aurora viewing.

For the most part tourists are very safe in this town. We do have crime but most of it is people who know each other, or have dealings with those types of people.

Hong Kong, China
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9. Re: Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

1stimestar - We are very appreciated for your answers. She is feeling better now and we will take your advice.

Fairbanks, Alaska
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10. Re: Aurora viewing in Fairbanks

Good. Have a great time. Come back and let us know how it went. I hope you get some fantastic lights!