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OPINION: Technology helps Chilliwack photographer see auroras for first time

Millions now have ability to see northern lights firsthand as smartphone cameras see what eyes cannot
An airplane cuts through the sky as the northern lights are seen over the Fraser River at Old Orchard Road in Chilliwack on Friday, May 10, 2024. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Years ago, I ventured off to Alaska in the dead of winter with my roller derby teammates. The game itself was what I was looking forward to the most, but potentially witnessing the northern lights would have been a close second.

It was December, smack-dab in the middle of ‘aurora season,’ yet I saw nothing. Not a wisp of bright light. Not a tiny green swirl. Nada.

I was so disappointed.

Fast forward more than 12 years and this time the lights were supposed to come to me. A solar storm brought the aurora borealis to B.C. on Friday, May 10.

I made my way to Old Orchard Road in Chilliwack, a street that hugs the mighty Fraser River, and hunkered down just before 11 p.m. with my tripod and full-frame mirrorless camera, alongside about eight other people.

Soon, over to the north, I could see a faint whiteish vertical line. As time passed, more lines appeared, but it was not the super bright greens and purples I had seen in so many photos – not to my naked eye anyway.

Yet when I looked at the images on my camera’s LCD screen I was in awe. Vibrant lime-green lights swept through my frame. Movements of magenta filled each image.

PHOTOS: People take in stunning northern lights show in Fraser Valley

The northern lights are seen from Old Orchard Road in Chilliwack on Friday, May 10, 2024. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

The auroras are typically not nearly as vibrant to the naked eye because our eyes do not see well in low light. Cameras, on the other hand, can capture so much more light in one image than what our eyes can see.

Had I brought my professional camera with me to Alaska, I likely would have witnessed this incredible sight back in 2012.

This was the first extreme solar storm in our area in years. Before May 10, the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration issued its first geomagnetic storm watch since 2005 and said the storm was going to be a “potentially historic event.”

I later realized why this phenomenon was so spectacular and so overwhelming to so many people – technology.

The first iPhone was released in 2007 and it certainly could not capture nighttime images.

But now smartphones can.

Today, millions of people have the ability to witness the northern lights firsthand because they have the tool to see what our eyes – for the most part – cannot.

Although Friday night’s show put on by Mother Nature started off faint, and I could only see it through my periphery, slowly but surely the sky got a bit brighter.

People pointed up and looked above. By the time 11:30 p.m. hit, the night sky definitely had hues of purple and green.

And even though the lights were now more visible to the naked eye than when I first arrived, the auroras still were not as stunning as when I viewed them on my camera.

The eight- to 30-second exposure photos captured so much more than what my photographer’s eye ever saw that night.

I’ve always considered myself lucky to witness and document so many events around Chilliwack, but this one took the cake.

And from what I saw on social media that night and afterwards, people in Chilliwack were as equally as lucky as I was, thanks to technology.

Jenna Hauck is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has been with The Chilliwack Progress since 2000. For more of her photos of the northern lights, see the slide show online.

The northern lights are seen over the Fraser River at Old Orchard Road in Chilliwack on Friday, May 10, 2024. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Jenna Hauck

About the Author: Jenna Hauck

I started my career at The Chilliwack Progress in 2000 as a photojournalist.
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