Stargazers catch rare glimpse of northern lights over Victoria

A few lucky astronomy enthusiasts caught a rare glimpse of the northern lights over Victoria on Saturday night.

Nic Annau, 21, was on his way home from a summer star party at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on West Saanich Road when he got a call from fellow member of the Astrophotography Club at the University of Victoria.

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“It was an extremely excited call around 11:30 p.m. and he said, ‘Go look North,’ ” said Annau, a fourth year physics and astronomy student.

His friend happened to be using the telescope at UVic that night and spotted an aurora, a natural light phenomenon sparked by electromagnetic storms usually near the northern pole. Auroras can produce streams of green, yellow, red and purple light across the night sky.

“I couldn’t see much because of the light polution where I was,” said Annau, who had a few viewing spots scoped out if such a event should occur. “I went to Phyllis Park in Cadboro Bay, which has a good northern view over the [Haro] Strait.”

Annau said that when he arrived at the lookout, he could see faint green in the sky with colourful arcs and ribbons starting to form and shoot up.

“I’ve been doing astronomy for about five years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, noting only two people from his club were up at 1:30 a.m. to catch it. “We’ve all had seeing the northern lights on our bucket list.”

Annau set up his camera to photograph the spectacle with 10 to 30 second exposures using a wide-angle lens.

“The thing that blew my mind was how it was reflecting off the water,” he said.

People in Vancouver and down to California also reported seeing the aurora and posted pictures to social media early Sunday.

The sighting might have been a one-night affair, as a NASA aurora forecast puts chances of seeing the lights in southern B.C. as low.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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