By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
SNOHOMISH — Liem Bahneman captured the beauty of the northern lights with his camera twice in the past few weeks.
Bahneman, of Bothell, a professional photographer and astronomy buff, set out about 10 p.m. last Thursday to the valley south of Snohomish.
“I was hoping to find some interesting rural foreground subject to put in front of the aurora like a barn, but the ones I saw were not positioned in a usable way without trespassing,” he said in an email.
“So I settled on a pullout with a nice northern view. The clouds were an issue (as almost always) and it was difficult to tell the aurora from the light domes of Snohomish and Everett, but eventually it was visible to the naked eye for about 20 minutes.”
The northern lights are caused by collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere, according to Northern Lights Centre, a museum in Canada’s Yukon territory dedicated to the phenomenon.
The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as “aurora borealis” in the north and “aurora australis” in the south. Auroral displays appear in many colors — while green and pink are the most common, shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported, according to the Northern Lights Centre.
“The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow,” the website says.
The northern lights can be seen at least once or twice a year in Washington and can be better seen in the more northern parts of the state, said Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington.
“You’d be better off in Alaska or Greenland, but we are farther north than a lot of the United States,” Mass said. “We are in better position to see them.
“The only problem we have is we don’t have enough clear nights.”
Two weeks ago, a particularly strong aurora borealis was in effect across much of the West and was ultimately seen in more than a dozen states, according to spaceweather.com.
On May 31, Bahneman arrived in Mukilteo — his favorite spot for photographing aurora borealis because of the northern exposure.
“The aurora became visible at around 10:30 p.m. and was visible to the naked eye, however, the colors you see in the photos were not,” Bahneman wrote.
For about 15 to 20 minutes, the aurora was visible directly overhead, which hasn’t happened in this area since 2004, according to Bahneman.
Sometimes, the aurora will pulsate, which happened briefly in Mukilteo, or rays will appear, which occurred in Snohomish, he said.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
See for yourself
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a website that tracks and forecasts aurora borealis activity: http://tinyurl.com/NOAA-ab.