The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

Alaskan Sunset

With the recent Moon/Mercury/Venus conjunction, some people might wonder where my photos are. Well, I am in Fairbanks, Alaska and that conjunction was pretty much invisible from here as they all set about the same time as the Sun that night! Besides, sunset now is very late at night and the sky never gets dark before the Sun starts coming up again…Fairbanks is not north of the Arctic Circle so there is never a 24 hour day here, but it still never gets dark.

I wanted to see a sunset while I was up here and wanted to wait until a clear night. I was told by the locals that Murphy Dome was the place to go (about a 30 minute drive from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks campus where I am staying). I needed to get somewhere that had a decent horizon to see the Sun and that seemed to be the closest place.

I got a late start and left about midnight. According to the charts, sunset in Fairbanks was at 12:38am so I thought I was cutting it closer than I like. Of course sunset times assume a flat horizon and you are not standing on a hill…so sunset actually didn’t happen until about 1:10am. Amazing what a difference terrain can make!

First, here is Murphy Dome. Yes, there is a dome.

Mosquitos are plentiful this time of year and they bite. Fortunately, clothes are a sufficient deterrent to them here (unlike Everglades mosquitos which bit through denim!) and I only got some bites on my face as the rest of me was covered up pretty well.

Here is a wide shot of where I was.

IMG_7336I zoomed in as the Sun got closer to the cloud tops. There was some distortion at the top limb, but couldn’t quite pull off a full green flash up there. You can see some nice distortion of the Sun near the horizon.

IMG_7351 IMG_7355Although I didn’t get a full mock mirage green flash, the clouds provided a nice backdrop to see a cloud-top green flash. This was visible naked eye as well as photographically.

IMG_7389 IMG_7415Every now and then I get a new one that I haven’t seen before that makes me think. You might notice there are some small gaps in the clouds. Well, I know you can get a cloud-top green flash, but it seems you can also get them through little holes in the clouds as well. I don’t think this is due to scattering since scattering should take out the greens before the reds.

IMG_7461Finally, a post-sunset shot.

IMG_7587I am very happy I got to see a sunset from here. It is very different. The Sun skims the horizon as it sets and is very prolonged compared to the more southerly latitudes I am used to. Unfortunately, with my schedule up here, I don’t think I will be able to get out for another really late night to do it again as I am dragging pretty bad today!


June 13, 2013 - Posted by | Astrophotography, Atmospheric Physics, Green Flash, Sunset | , ,

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