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Arctic midnight

15th - 23rd December 1996

These are some photos taken during a trip to Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen , 78N15E (Where it is? -This 21Kb gif shows you), 15th - 23rd December 1996. The sun was at the highest about 12° below the horizon, and for that reason I had to use long exposure times. The twilight in the south at noon was faintly visible on a cloudless day, but the stars and aurora borealis clearly shone as if it were night. Several of the photos below were taken around noon. I mostly used 200ASA films, which seemed to give better contrast than faster films. The exposure times were between 3-10 seconds and up to 1/2 - 2 minutes. At the end of the week only a few seconds were enough in the light of the Moon, which rose to about 25°.

The weather was good. The sky was starlit throughout most of the week, day and night; only one day was cloudy with some snow. The maximum and minimum temperatures measured in the town (at the university building) during the week were 3°F and -20°F respectively, but half of the days had average winds of strong breeze or moderate gale force (which gave a wind chill down to -60°F). Therefore, it became a bit difficult at times to photograph, which often required working with metal with bare hands. The aurora borealis was visible most days (mainly towards the south), in spite of the very high latitude and that the sunspot activity was out of season. On the other hand, the latitude gives the opportunity of observing different kinds of aurorae 24 hours a day. An auroral station just outside Longyearbyen has been established for this purpose.

About 60% of the films were lost; some because the mechanism in the camera stopped working after a few hours in the cold, but a full film, which had a series of photos taken during a spectacular display of the aurora borealis, was all lost because it simply shattered into pieces. The film was broken into many tiny bits, and I can't understand how the camera could have torn the film apart in this way unless it was frozen. On the other hand, I find it totally incredible that only 10 degrees Fahrenheit below can cause a film to freeze. It happened when I was about to rewind the film just after having gone indoors, so perhaps the sudden 80° change of temperature had a side effect.

Each picture can be found as jpg and gif. For the jpg pictures you need a 24 bit display or to convert them in order to see the full colour resolution. The gif pictures are a bit smaller and converted to 192 colours. Some pictures are also available as jpg in 2000·1280 resolution.

[metallum II] jpg(1152·742, 109Kb) gif(800·515, 259Kb)
[17th December 1996]

Mine 2 in the Longyear valley against the clear polar night. Lights from Longyearbyen, which have a green tinge, illuminate the side of the valley. The bright spot is a Christmas tree.

[Nybyen] jpg(1152·741, 83Kb) gif(800·515, 231Kb)
[17th December 1996]

Nybyen is seen at the bottom to the right. The town is the only light source.

[Nybyen] jpg(1152·756, 66Kb) gif(800·525, 225Kb) magna jpg(2000·1280, 165Kb)
[23rd December 1996]

Nybyen with Larsbreen (a glacier) behind bathed in moonlight, looking south. Blurred aurora borealis clearly shines through the sky which already is well illuminated by the Moon off the right edge of the picture.

[Vrbs Longennia] jpg(1152·752, 57Kb) gif(800·523, 204Kb) magna jpg(2000·1280, 136Kb)
[19th December 1996]

The picture is taken close to the museum at Skjæringa looking north-east. The mountains which are seen on the other side of the Advent fjord are partly illuminated by the town and partly illuminated by the low Moon in the East behind a thin layer of clouds.

[Vrbs Longennia] jpg(1152·720, 79Kb) gif(800·514, 211Kb)
[17th December 1996]

View of the centre of Longyearbyen. The exposure time was one minute. The town slightly illuminates the mountains seen approximately 5km behind it, but the shadows are cause by the moonlight. The mountains were just faintly visible with the naked eye. The half-moon was 11° above the horizon, too low to be visible within the town.

[Skjæringa] jpg(1152·760, 67Kb) gif(800·528, 217Kb)
[17th December 1996]

Skjæringa is to the right in the picture. The smoke comes from the coal based power station which serves as an excellent wind gauge.

[lūna] jpg(1152·769, 52Kb) gif(800·534, 245Kb)
[23rd December 1996]

Longyearbreen (a glacier) is to the right in the picture. The circle is a reflection in the lense caused by the Moon. The picture was taken when the Moon was about (12:34am) to to occult Aldebaran, a bright star in Taurus, but the Moon was far too bright for it to be visible on the picture.

[lūx lūnae] jpg(1152·751, 79Kb) gif(800·521, 234Kb)
[23rd December 1996]

Moonlight. (4", f/5·6, 200ASA)

[aurōra boreālis] jpg(1152·768, 89Kb) gif(800·533, 223Kb)
[16th December 1996]

Daytime aurora borealis, characteristic with its streaks going in an east/west direction. A 20-25 second exposure taken 12:45pm. This is the picture from the archive at Nordlysstasjonen in Adventdalen (5km away) closest to my picture with regard to time.

[aurōra boreālis] jpg(1152·745, 80Kb) gif(800·517, 206Kb)
[23rd December 1996]

More aurora borealis.

[aurōra boreālis] jpg(1152·770, 57Kb) gif(800·534, 295Kb)
[23rd December 1996]

Even more aurora borealis over Longyearbyen. The aurora isn't extensive, but bright.

[Septentriōnēs] jpg(1152·771, 94Kb) gif(800·535, 295Kb)
[20th December 1996]

The Big Dipper in the north-west (taken around 1:45pm).

[Vallis Longennia occidentālis] jpg(1152·706, 82Kb) gif(800·490, 257Kb) magna jpg(2000·1280, 225Kb)
[20th December 1996]

The western side of the Longyear valley. The long exposure time makes the valley side appear well illuminated, and in combination with the starlit sky in the background the landscape seems almost as it were without an atmosphere.

[Vallis Longennia occidentālis] jpg(1152·767, 94Kb) gif(800·533, 282Kb) magna jpg(2000·1280, 278Kb)
[20th December 1996]

More from the western side of the Longyear valley.

[Glaciēs Longennia] jpg(1152·769, 89Kb) gif(800·534, 270Kb)
[23rd December 1996]

Longyearbreen in moonlight.

[Sinus Aduentūs] jpg(1152·761, 36Kb) gif(800·528, 226Kb) magna jpg(2000·1280, 89Kb)
[19th December 1996]

View of the Advent fjord. The Moon illuminates the mountains, while the town lights shine on the fjord.

[Sinus Aduentūs] jpg(1152·756, 49Kb) gif(800·525, 248Kb)
[19th December 1996]

Another view over the Advent fjord. Only the stars, which shine through a thin layer of haze, seem to reveal that this picture with an exposure time of almost a minute is taken during the polar night.

[EISCAT radar] jpg(1152·779, 93Kb) gif(800·541, 191Kb)
[21st December 1996]

The EISCAT radar at mine 7.

[Vrbs Longennia] jpg(1152·748, 39Kb) gif(800·519, 128Kb)
[20th December 1996]

Longyearbyen around noon.

The photos below have been shot with a compact camera and flash.
[tarandrus] jpg(927·557, 44Kb) gif(800·481, 190Kb)
[21st December 1996]

The tiny Svalbard reindeer. Funken Hotell in the background.

[signum] jpg(541·800, 40Kb) gif541·800, 164Kb)
[23rd December 1996]

A well known sign at the airport.

[signum perīculī] jpg(320·640, 14Kb) gif(320·640, 94Kb)
[21st December 1996]

Another sign, in Adventdalen. There are probably not very many of its kind in the world. As a proper tourist I let myself be photographed beside it.

[ā canibus uectus] jpg(800·481, 35Kb) gif(800·481, 202Kb)
[17th December 1996]

Mushing. There was some auroral activity also on this day. This is what the sky looked like during the mush (from the archive at Nordlysstasjonen).


The archipelago
of Svalbard

2000: An expedition to Svalbard

This is an account in six parts about a voyage on board the Havsul of Tromsø across the Barents Sea to Spitsbergen. We visited the fjords and explored the land, and we were in for a few surprises.
To the story.
Posted 13th November 2000

1999: Awaiting the returning sun

I saw the first sunbeams of the year reach Longyearbyen on 8th March. That day the children gather at a certain place in the town where the sun can be seen for the first time in five months. Then the weeklong sun festival begins.
To the story.
Posted 20th March 1999

Returning sun
1998: Arctic dawn

I went to Longyearbyen 11th February. The darkness still held the town, but every day the sun rose a little bit closer to the horizon. Then, finally, on the last day of my stay, the first sunbeams touched the peaks of the surrounding mountains.
To the story.
Posted 26th February 1998

Arctic dawn
1997: Navigation to Bear Island

I went on a voyage to Spitsbergen this summer. However, after many difficulties, we landed at Bear Island, and we decided to abandon our planned destination and to return to Norway from here.
To the story.
Posted 7th August 1997

Bear Island

Steinar Midtskogen