An Atmospheric Mystery Above the Oregon Coast: Green Gasses or Aurora Borealis?
(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – It's further proof that real science is stranger than science fiction – especially on Oregon's beaches.
Looking up instead of down at the Oregon coast, last week's wild solar activity in space almost resulted in some awe-inspiring nocturnal sights in the northwest. But the region was too cloudy to see the extra-luminous northern lights.
Yet a few days later, in Arch Cape, just south of Cannon Beach, Oregon Coast Beach Connection caught this wild and ethereal scene in the skies, which included a glowing green mass behind the patches of orange that looked very much like the aurora borealis.
Talking to Jim Todd at OMSI in Portland, it was determined it was not the northern lights. But gasses in the atmosphere are picked up by the camera which the human eye cannot see. This is really evident in photos of stars taken from the ground, where different stars appear to have different colorations. It is those gasses that cause the color shifts.
The orange is caused by the street lamps of distant Cannon Beach and northern Arch Cape, and has to do with some technical settings in the camera while taking these long exposures. Fishing boats cause the two yellow lights in the distance.
The green also shows up in a band stretching horizontally in this shot of Arch Cape to the south – the very same spot the top photo was taken from, but a different view.
But what gasses cause the green? Todd wasn't sure.
“I have seen some images appear with green hue because of the type of low sodium street lights reflecting off of clouds and/or fog,” Todd said. “Near the light itself, it will appear orange, but as you move further away it becomes slight green.”
It could have to do with the camera settings as well. In some late night scenes on the coast or in the the cities, changing the settings to “tungsten” can cancel out the yellow cast of street lights or lessen it. Other times, it does nothing at all.
“I am not a camera expert, but my understanding that this has something to do with white balance of the camera settings,” Todd said. “A few years ago, I took an image of the darkest night sky possible from central Oregon and it came out almost totally green sky. Then someone told me that my white balance setting was off.
“Then again, your camera setting may be correct and something else could cause the green hue to appear. There are no gasses in the air that could cause this effect I am aware of.”
The mystery is not solved.
However, Todd's idea that the light can shift on the outer parts of the orange area may say much: this is the atmosphere transitioning from the influence of the sodium lamps to no influence.
Above: Near Depoe Bay at night, with more green bands, orange bands and stars of varying colors.
Above: Lincoln City at night, with the "tungsten" setting on - this cleared up a yellow cast on the ground and sky, but made things a bit unusually blue.
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