Northern Lights by Drone? You Won’t Believe Your Eyes


Northern lights over Iceland filmed by Icelandic photographer Oli Haukur using a drone. Don’t forget to expand the screen.

I knew the era of real-time northern lights video was upon us. I just didn’t think drones would get into the act this soon. What was I thinking? They’re perfect for the job! If watching the aurora ever made you feel like you could fly, well now you can in Oli Haukur’s moving, real-time footage of an amazing aurora display filmed by drone.

Oli Haukur operates the drone and camera during a test run. Credit: Oli Hauku / OZZO Photography
Oli Haukur operates the drone and camera during a test run. Credit: Oli Hauku / OZZO Photography

Haukur hooked up a Sony a7S II digital camera and ultra-wide Sigma 20mm f/1.4 lens onto his DJI Matrice 600 hexacopter. The light from the gibbous moon illuminates the rugged shoreline and crashing waves of the Reykjanes Peninsula (The Steamy Peninsula) as while green curtains of aurora flicker above.

The Sony camera is shown attached to the drone. To capture the aurora, Haukur used a fast lens, high ISO and set the frame rate to 25 frames per second (fps) or 1/25th of a second per frame. Credit: Oli Haukur / OZZO Photography
The Sony camera is shown attached to the drone. To capture the aurora, Haukur used a fast lens, high ISO and set the frame rate to 25 frames per second (fps) or 1/25th of a second per frame. Credit: Oli Haukur / OZZO Photography

When the camera ascends over a sea stack, you can see gulls take off below, surprised by the mechanical bird buzzing just above their heads. Breathtaking. You might notice at the same time a flash of light — this is from the lighthouse beacon seen earlier in the video.

To capture his the footage, Haukur used a “fast” lens (one that needs only a small amount of light to make a picture) and an ISO of 25,600. The camera is capable of ISO 400,000, but the lower ISO provided greater resolution and color quality.

Moonlight provided all the light needed to bring out the landscape.

The drone used to make the night flight. Credit: Oli Haukur
The drone used to make the night flight and aurora recording is seen up close on takeoff. Haukur, of Rejkyavik, Iceland, works as a freelance photographer and filmmaker as well as providing professional drone services in that country. Credit: Oli Haukur / OZZO Photography

Remember when ISO 1600 or 3200 was as far you dared to go before the image turned to a grainy mush? Last year Canon released a camera that can literally see in the dark with a top ISO over 4,000,000! There’s no question we’ll be seeing more live aurora and drone aurora video in the coming months. Haukur plans additional shoots this winter and early next spring. Living in Iceland, which lies almost directly beneath the permanent auroral oval, you can schedule these sort of things!

Am I allowed one tiny criticism? I want more — a minute and a half is barely enough! Haukur shot plenty but released only a taste to social media to prove it could be done and share the joy. Let’s hope he compiles the rest and makes it available for us to lose our selves in soon.

Weekly Space Hangout -March 13, 2015: Astrophysicist Katie Mack

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Special Guest: Astrophysicist Katie Mack (@AstroKatie)

Guests:
Ramin Skibba (@raminskibba)
Charles Black (@charlesblack / sen.com/charles-black)
Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein)
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout -March 13, 2015: Astrophysicist Katie Mack”

This Drone Took Amazing Astronomical Observatory Video In Wisconsin

It’s hard to do many types of astronomy in the daylight, so that can be a good time to do a different kind of observing — enjoying the architecture of the telescope! This new video shot by a drone shows off Yerkes Observatory in snowy Williams Bay, Wisconsin. The video was uploaded by Adam Novak.

Yerkes, which is operated by the University of Chicago, calls itself the “birthplace of modern astrophysics” because it combined astronomical observations with experimentation in physics and chemistry. That’s something that’s normal in astronomy today, but certainly not in 1897.

Observations began with a 40-inch refractor (billed as the biggest such telescope ever finished) that weighs about 20 tons. While the telescope itself is from the turn of the century, the means of moving it is much more modern — from about 50 years ago, according to a National Park Service book on the observatory:

The telescope was modernized in 1969 permitting more accurate and rapid setting of the position of the telescope. The efficiency of the telescope was further increased by the addition of an automatically guiding camera. The driving clock, by which the telescope is made to follow the stars, consists of a synchronous motor controlled by an electronic oscillator, the frequency of which can he set so as to make the telescope follow the sun, the moon, or stars.

You can learn more about Yerkes on the official website.