So, we are here in Alta and we faced with bad weather conditions for nighttime observing and the experts select the best available site at Suolovopmi Fjellstue, which is at higher elevation and might escape some of the bad weather.
So, with four bus loads of hopeful northern light searchers we drive 55 km south of Alta. This “wilderness” site is quite dark skies and provides some creature comforts like bonfires, heated teepees to warm up in and hot chocolate and coffe to keep us going.
|Staying warm in Norway while waiting for the northern lights at Suolovopmi Fjellstue (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
But the clouds just keep on hanging around. I didn’t unpack my camera and tripod until on lonely star sort of tried to make its presence known. By the time I got the camera out and tripod extended the star was gone. Even the moon, was just shrouded in clouds as you can see below. We sort of, followed the trail, lit by candles on the ground and wondered from teepee to teepee and even the little souvenir store at that location, but eventually our observing time was done and we had to pack up and get on the buses and head back to the ship.
Darn! We had such high hopes that this night was going to be a success, but it was not to be. The photo below shows the candles on the lighted path and the moon in the upper right. We could not find a better location to get out of the way of the overcast and cloudy skies.
|Too many clouds to see the northern lights on our shore excursion (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
So, we can’t stay in Alta anymore and by now the cruise ship is on its southward journey along the Norwegian coast and we make the transition from Alta to Narvik. Check out this map and you can get a sense of the beautiful coastline of fjords that we are passing through.
|Viking Sky arrives at port of call in Narvik, Norway|
But before we leave Alta completely we should mention something or two about our chance to visit the local museum, which is located at a very picturesque location along the fjord.
|Resident Astronomers visit Alta Museum along the fjord (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Inside were many exhibits covering the long history of Alta including some ancient people who made thousands of instances of rock art by chipping away at the large rocks in the area until the artistic forms takes shape. The museum has a long winding foot path that goes in and out and around the many boulders in the area that have been carved by some ancient people chipping away at the boulder. We couldn’t walk along the paths and see all offseason carving because they were all covered by snow and they don’t brush the snow off because the the moisture that would form when the sun came out would slowly over time erode away the art. So in some sense the snow helps protect the art and the damage from liquid water only happens a few times per year rather than every time that the museum would have brushed the snow away.
|Rock art carving in the Alta Museum (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Ok, so we have moved down the coast to Narvik. This strategic port was the site of a major land and see battle during WWII. The port of Narvik had high value because it was a ice free port, through which a major portion of Germany’s iron ore, was transported. The iron ore was of very high quality and mined in Sweden, which is just a few dozen km from Norway, and transported by rail to Narvik.
Our tour also included a drive out into the surrounding countryside along the beautiful fjords. The sun goes down early at this time of year in these high latitude locations so it is easy to run out of daylight while you have more interesting things to do. It’s interesting to note that by about one o’clock, when the sun is very close to being below the horizon, that the color seems to just fade away and everything seems to show up in terms of black and white and grey.
|Enjoying the scenic view of the fjords on our Viking Sky land excursion (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Some instances of ice were found on the upstream sides of the fjords where the water is fresher and not as salty. Here we see a little bay in the fjord which is mostly covered in ice. We could little chunks of ice that had broken off and were then floating downstream, and melting, to the sea.
|Ice seen on freshwater side of fjords on our Viking Sky land excursion (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
We also signed up to visit a local Sami shaman and his perspective of being one of the native Norwegian peoples. We were invited into his teepee, called a lavvu, where he and his wife entertained us with the customary drum ceremony. For many years the Sami were discriminated against and the Norwegian government for a while forbade them from speaking their native language. Now times have changed, but it was apparent that some anger (justified) and resentment remained.
|Inside a Sami lavvu with the shaman (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
So, we had a great time in this journey and even though we did not see the northern lights, the adventure and cruise continues. Several passengers did manage to see some brief episodes of lights, even from the ship, but they were not visible long enough to have alerted the other passengers, like us! But being clouded out is all normal occurrences for Astronomers. We can remember being clouded out at Borrego Springs, at Julian, at two Tucson observatories, many times at Black Dtar Canyon, and something like four times waiting for observing time on the 60 inch scope on Mt. Wilson. So, we just have to keep trying and as you can see in some instances like in the following photograph, we just have to turn in the right direction to see what we seek!
|Resident Astronomers didn't see the Northern Lights behind them (Source: Palmia Observatory)|
Until next time,
Resident Astronomer George
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