Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pic of the Day: Nightfox


This fox lives in the wooded area across the street from my building at school. I saw it on one of the footpaths at night, and crept up to get a picture. I guess it's used to people, as it let me get about 20 feet away before it started getting antsy. So I took this photo with a bright flash, expecting that to scare it away. Nope. It ran right up to my feet, hopped back and forth a couple of times, then went off into the bushes. I don't know if it was being playful, or trying to scare me away, or something else altogether.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Starvation Gulch

Flames licking the Moon
(all photos clickable)

UAF has a tradition called Starvation Gulch, which is about... building the biggest fire possible? This was never really explained to me. Anyway, there were five giant bonfires, and a bunch of people standing in the middle cheering on which fire got the biggest or burned the longest.


Starvation Gulch Starvation Gulch

Starvation Gulch

Starvation Gulch Starvation Gulch

Starvation Gulch

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Alaska Range

(all photos clickable)

I mentioned previously the views of the Alaska Range from Fairbanks, but I don't think I've put any pictures up yet. So that's Denali, as viewed from Fairbanks. It's ~150 miles to the southwest. My friend Lee pointed out something I've never realized - measured in vertical relief, which is the height from ground level to the top of the mountain, Denali is the tallest mountain on Earth. Its summit is only ~20,000 feet above sea level (compared to Everest's ~29,000 ft), but the surrounding landscape is only ~3,000 ft above sea level (Everest - ~17,000). So Denali's vertical relief is ~17,000 ft (Everest - ~12,000 ft). This means, standing at the bottom and looking up, Denali towers an additional 5,000 feet (almost a mile!) above your head when compared to Everest. Neat!

Denali, of course, isn't the only mountain in the Alaska Range. These other two photos were taken from the steps in front of the main entrance to my building at school, and show the Alaska Range to the south:

Panorama of the Alaska Range

Alaska Range

Friday, September 24, 2010

Getting Sick of Aurorae Yet?

Well I'm not.

I walked outside earlier and noticed that tonight is the most active aurora since I've been here in Alaska. It would be perfect, but for one thing - it's a full moon. The moonlight is so bright compared to the aurora light that long and/or high ISO exposures aren't going to work. This leaves me two options:

1. Mope around because these aren't the conditions I had in mind.

2. Be flexible and find the positive in the conditions I was given.

Well let's see... if I shoot away from the moon, I can use it as a fill light on the trees. And since I'm limited to short exposures anyway, how about trying a time lapse? I've been wanting to show you poor, deprived souls in the lower 48 how the aurora moves, since the still photos, beautiful as they are, don't do it justice.
So I set up the camera in the end of the driveway, where I had a good view of some aurora streams behind the trees, and set it to snap one 4 second exposure every 5 seconds. When the still images are used as movie frames at 30 fps, the result is an hour of real time compressed into 23 seconds of video. Equivalently, you could say this video is sped up to 150x normal speed.

I'm still pretty inexperienced with time lapse. I'd actually like to do this with only about 30x speed up, but that will have to wait for a darker night when I can use higher ISO. Or, maybe until I get a nicer camera. And oh, a wider angle lens would be amazing. Hopefully I can make that one happen before too long.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pic of the Day: Yet another Aurora Photo

Trees and Aurora

What, you expect me not to take pictures of things like this?

Notice the Pleiades just over the V made by the trees on the left.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pic of the Day: Aurora and Iridium Flare

Aurora and Iridium Flash

"In the dream dusk
We walked beside a lake
We watched the sky move sideways
We heard the evening break"
- The Sky Moves Sideways by Porcupine Tree

Maybe a little explanation is in order. Obviously that's the aurora over a body of water (a side wash of the Chena River). But what's the bright streak? Not a shooting star, but an iridium flare. It's the antenna or solar panels of a satellite that just happened to be turned at the right angle to reflect the sun back to my camera as it orbits the Earth at 10-or-20 thousand miles per hour. They start out very dim or even invisible, then fade in to very bright as they move through just the right spot to reflect, then fade back out. This photo captures 15 seconds of movement as it fades out - it's moving left-to-right, even though your first impression is probably right-to-left.

Oh, the U-shaped constellation just above and to the right of the iridium flare, I believe that's Corona Borealis. Just FYI.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pic of the Day: Can I leave now?

I want to go outside

Homework in the office. The first day, when they told us to 'pick a station', I grabbed one with a window while everyone else was being indecisive. Now, I find the window more of a temptation than anything.
Those three sheets layed out there? Yeah, that's one problem. Can I go outside now? Nope, five more to go.

Pic of the Day: Smith Lake 2-for-1

Smith Lake
(All photos clickable)

2 large photos today, because I cannot decide which of these two I like best.

Smith Lake

Went walking today when I'd had too much of sitting and reading E&M. This is Smith Lake, on the trails through the undeveloped north part of the UAF campus.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pic of the Day: Moose (Mooses? Meese?)

(All photos clickable)

Young moose keeps a watchful eye on the biped creeping around with the camera. Mother simply thinks 'I could squash you like a bug' and keeps eating.

I walked outside earlier and found these moose grazing on the grass at the end of my driveway. They saw me before I saw them - things that large have no business being that quiet and camoflaged. The calf was a few yards closer than the mother, and although it was wary, it kept grazing. I was 15-20 yards away, leaning on the car for balance (and quick escape!). I moved a few feet forward to steady the camera on a tree, and the calf walked over to the mother, who grunted, then they both continued eating.

For a sense of size, the mother's shoulder blade is probably a few inches above the top of my head. That seems typical for the adult moose I've seen so far. Yikes.

Moose Moose

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pic(s) of the Day: Tug of War!

Tug of War
(All photos clickable)

Pulling down a hot air balloon after it landed in Creamer's Field, a migratory bird refuge in the middle of Fairbanks (I'll have more to say about Creamer's Field another time). This was just after sunset, and action shot + low light = motion blur. What do you want me to do about it, set up a few flashes and ask him to do it again?

I spotted the balloon from the road and followed it for a bit, hoping to get a great shot of it with the mountains in the background. I managed to get zero good shots of it in the air. Here's a couple other pics after it landed:

Balloon at Creamer's Field

Balloon Inside the Balloon

Mosquitoes hunt by sensing heat (among other things), and the hot body of the balloon attracted a swarm. After the balloon was taken down, they spread out over the small crowd of people. This poorly-focused shot (remember to use AF-assist light in these situations!) shows some of the swarm around Patrick:

Mosquito Swarm

Oh yeah, Patrick. He's another physics grad student, he's been here for a few years. The curious thing was that, in spite of only knowing about 15 people in Fairbanks, one of them just happened to be on the balloon.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Daily Grind

UAF Museum of the North
(All photos clickable)

I hate to ruin this perception for anyone, but my life in Alaska is not all photography and Denali and aurorae. I know at least a few people would be interested in where I go every day, so let's start with school.
First, the Reichardt Building, also known as NSF (Natural Sciences Facility):

UAF Reichardt Building

This is where two of my three classes are held, as well as where the two astronomy labs I'm running meet, and where my office (shared with 7 other grad students) is located. This is not a good picture, but there isn't really a good angle, with all the signs and trees and lampposts outside.

UAF Geophysical Institute and IARC

The closer, gray building is IARC (International Arctic Research Center). The taller one with the giant dish on top is the GI (Geophysical Institute), which is where I will likely be moving next year when I start research. Not visible here, but behind the GI is the West Ridge Research Building, where ARSC (Arctic Region Supercomputing Center) is located. My third class is in the ARSC facilities there.

In between Reichardt and the GI is the Museum of the North, which is the building at the top of this post with the crazy architecture. I haven't been inside yet, but hope to remedy that soon - maybe this weekend. Here are a couple more shots of the museum:

UAF Museum of the North UAF Museum of the North

So that's school, at least the West Ridge of campus. There's a whole lower campus at the bottom of the ridge. Oh yeah, did I mention these buildings are on a ridge with a great view of the Tanana Valley right out the front door? On a clear day you can see all the way to the Alaska Range and Denali. I'll have to get a pic of that sometime...
Anyway, now to home - the cabin:

My Cabin My Cabin

My Cabin My Cabin

My Cabin My Cabin

The white box next to the bed is the oil heater, taking fuel from a 200 gallon tank outside. The big blue bottle on the counter next to the sink is for water, with a hand pump to make water come out of the sink. I have four of those bottles, and I go fill up when two are empty. It costs 25 cents to fill two of them. The last shot is the area I don't know what to do with, currently holding the things I don't know where to put. I guess that makes it the storage area. Yes, someday I hope to own a sofa to set in that space next to the big window that looks like it's begging for a sofa.
I'll put up shots of outside, the deck and yard another time.

So it's a one-room 'dry' cabin. It's kind of ascetic in some ways, and I'm enjoying it a lot. It's strange how standards of living, what is 'essential' and what is 'luxury' change from place to place. In Arkansas, a 'dry' cabin means the roof doesn't leak. In Fairbanks, it means there is no running water. In Arkansas, that's unheard of. In Fairbanks, it's common, and nobody even raises an eyebrow if you mention it. In the lower 48, we incorrectly identify running water as a necessity, rather than the luxury it is. If you allow your perspective to go beyond US borders, even a simple dry cabin like this is still rather grand and palatial by most standards. All that room for only one person? Electric lights? Reliable heat? To say nothing of surround sound or wifi.

Our culture values us as people based on the quality and/or quantity of the things we own. Things. We are not our things. Most people would agree with that statement, as long as you didn't ask them to actually give up any of their things.

That's what I'm enjoying about this place. There's a sense of simplicity and living within your means - not financially, but ecologically. I'm not saying everyone needs to be bush hippies and live in the forest, all I'm saying is we would be better off if people kept a sense of perspective about the things they need vs. the things they want, and the impact of acquiring those things on other people and the planet itself.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pic(s) of the Day: My First Aurora!

(All photos clickable)

Last night I saw my first aurora (a.k.a. northern lights). Here, it loops around the Big Dipper. It started as a glow on the northern horizon, just above the trees, then developed into covering the whole northern sky. I've seen videos, and it always looks like it's shimmering, like a curtain waving around. I never knew if it really looks like that, or that was time lapse. Well, now I know: it really does shimmer and change shape as you're watching.

A couple more photos:

Aurora Aurora

This was a small display, which has me wondering what the big ones are going to be like.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pic of the Day: A Mighty Roar!

A mighty roar!

A mighty roar to frighten away all challengers!

Actually, it's chewing on a bit of apple core somebody discarded on top of the mountain.

It's a marmot, by the way. I think. I'm still learning the wildlife here. I feel confident saying it's a mid-size rodent of some sort.

Taken above Healy Overlook in Denali National Park.

Pic of the Day: Bear

Black Bear
(Photo is clickable)

A black bear forages for food among the colorful alpine scenery in Denali National Park.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Steese Highway

View from the Steese Highway

(All photos are clickable)

The Steese Highway runs 160 miles through the mountains to the mining community of Central, and then to the town of Circle on the banks of the Yukon river. Only the first 60 miles are paved (plus paving within Central). That means, for an out-and-back trip such as the one I did, 200 miles of dirt road. It's a very nice dirt road, though, and the scenery is pretty amazing:

View from the Steese Highway

View from the Steese Highway View from the Steese Highway

Approaching the higher altitudes, the trees begin to thin out:

View from the Steese Highway

View from the Steese Highway View from the Steese Highway

The area around Eagle Pass, where the road is above the treeline (the maximum altitude at which trees are able to grow), is particularly impressive. The vegetation in this area is mostly reddish lichen. I don't know if it's always red or if that's an autumn thing. It's pretty thick and spongy, and feels really strange to walk on:

View from Steese Highway