Solstice Light

Katie Eberhart - Writing & Observations


The Northern Night Sky

May 13, 2005: by mid-May, viewing of dark sky objects and phenomena (stars, planets, meteors, aurora) in southcentral Alaska is diminishing for the season. With sunrise at 5:18 AM and sunset at 10:38 PM and at least an hour or more of twilight and pre-dawn lighting the night sky viewing opportunities are of short duration. And even at the darkest hour of the night there is still light along the northern horizon and few stars are visible. For more on the night sky in summer, see my web cam postings on day length and changing of the seasons, the webcam record of daylight and darkness on summer solstice 2001, and the current webcam image.

Clear night, moon lit, night sky photos.


Auroral Display from Space

Auroral Display from Space

Image of the aurora australis (Southern Lights) taken from the Space Shuttle. Image source NASA:

Northern Hemisphere Auroral Activity Map (NASA)

Alaska Aurora Makes the Astronomy Picture of the Day!

And Viewing Northern Lights From the Ground!

Northern Lights

Photograph by Katie Eberhart
Northern Lights over Matanuska Peak
(see web cam for day time view)

Northern Lights, Palmer, Alaska (3/31/01) & Hints on Photographing Aurora with a Digital Camera

Meteor Showers



Host a Night Sky Party

First, decide what you want to watch. Meteors? Stars & Constellations? The Northern Lights? Then decide when you might see it!

If you're going to host a night sky viewing party in Alaska, you have some serious planning ahead. First consider the time of year. For stars and northern lights, summer is bad because, of course, it seems like it's daylight all the time. From May through mid-August, plan to fish or run or bicycle or whatever whenever. Point is, in southcentral Alaska don't even consider hosting a night sky party until at least September.

By May 1st sunset in Palmer, Alaska is at about 10:00 p.m., sunrise at about 5:45 a.m. By August 15 it's about seven weeks past the Solstice and sunset is around 10:00 p.m. with sunrise at about 6:00 a.m.* (Considering the extended twilight period, add another hour or so until there is truly a dark night sky.) ...look-up sunrise/ sunset...

Remember to select a location with minimal or no light pollution. So be sure to ask about light pollution if you're travelling to a place you're unfamiliar with. (Here's a sobering look at light pollution on the planet Earth. The three bright light spots in Alaska, from south to north, are Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Prudhoe Bay.)

OK, so plan for when it gets dark at night. Then you need a clear night.... Start by checking the long-term (5 day!) weather forecast.

So you have a clear, dark night. Check to be sure that there isn't a full moon. Plan for the period when there is a new moon or when the moon rises late in the evening.*

Check the aurora forecast or for meteor showers.

Consider the comfort of your guests. Remind them to bring warm clothing, because, guaranteed, from September through April night temperatures in Alaska range from chilly to dangerously cold. And consider the comfort of their necks. Round up as many chaise lounges as you can or suggest that guests bring their own along with blankets and sleeping bags.

Food and Snacks: Hot Drinks and warm desserts are just the ticket for watching meteor showers or the aurora borealis.

Other Items that might be handy: telescope or spotting scope on a tripod, binoculars, cameras/tripods, fast film (400 or 800 ASA)**, and perhaps a sky map.

Enjoy good friends, good company, and with a little luck, mother nature's best sky show!

Stars and Constellations Viewable from Palmer, Alaska

Astronomy Picture of the Day Calendar

*Check the Sunrise/Sunset & Moonrise/Moonset for a Place and Date at the US Naval Observatory web site

This page updated June 22, 2011


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