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Out of Bandon Came Some of the Most Intense Aurora Shots: S. Oregon Coast Photo Adventures

Published 5/15/24 at 3:45 a.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Bandon, Oregon) – To say it was one of the most memorable events in the U.S. in recent history would still be a bit of an understatement. Indeed, for Oregon and Washington it was probably the most amazing thing to be seen in the skies in recent decades, maybe rivaling the eclipse of 2017 and Comet Hale-Bopp in the '90s. (Photos of Bandon courtesy Manuela Durson - Manuela Durson Fine Arts )

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This past weekend's solar storm (May 10) and subsequent bright Aurora Borealis was a first for so many. It's almost never been visible to the naked eye this far south into Oregon. Interestingly enough, down on the south coast, some of the best photos of the entire event came from Bandon – and one woman. Manuela Durson may have captured the most intense colors and the most distinct images of those celestial curtains of light.

In a period of 45 minutes, Durson managed to grab remarkably deep colors from the northern lights. Bold pinks, purples and a vast set of shades along the green spectrum seemed to erupt from favorite landmarks around the south Oregon coast fishing port. She captured these while hanging out around only the Coquille River, grabbing the scenes from the marina, the south jetty and down the river a bit.

Like the majority of the population in Oregon, this was a wild first for her.

At the Bandon Marina

“You could see the Aurora very clearly with the naked eye, but of course not like the camera sees it,” Durson told Oregon Coast Beach Connection.

She was absolutely in awe. Bandon had a little help with all its dark skies and no light pollution.

Down the Coquille River

“When I was driving to photograph it, all I could say is 'Wow' when seeing the pink and green glow that took up the whole north of the sky,” she said. “It was impressive even to the naked eye.”

Durson said she was out and about from 11 p.m. to 12:15 a.m. That turned out to be the prime time around the state.

As a photographer, Durson also leans heavily on her drone for her work. This time, nope, this was all straight-ahead Nikon gear.

Durson's money shot of the lighthouse in Bandon

“None of these were taken with the drone, as I had to do longer exposures on a stable tripod,” she said.

Durson and her drone caught some outstanding images of Bandon in the snow early in 2023. You saw a whole other side to the town in that photo essay (and one of those photos are at the bottom of this article). Above Bandon in Snow: S. Oregon Coast Photographer Captures Wowing New Views

The light show came from a load of CMEs (coronal mass ejection) that were flung at Earth from a gigantic sunspot, one that is 15 times the size of the Earth. Its story is rather astounding all itself: what is called AR3664 shot out more than a few X3.9-class flares the previous day and the day before that. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) said there were at least six, and they ended up combining before they hit our planet.

When they merge they're called a “cannibal CME,” said Jim Todd of Portland's OMSI.

“Cannibal CMEs form when fast-moving CMEs overtake and gobble up slower CMEs in front of them,” Todd said last week. “Internal shock waves created by such CME collisions do a good job sparking geomagnetic storms when they strike Earth's magnetic field.”

This was a historic solar storm, one that hadn't happened in over 20 years. It ended up a 9 on the KP index, which is how scientists measure the strength of those particles hitting the planet. You need a KP index of 6 or higher to see it in lower latitudes like ours in Oregon. It more than delivered on its solar promise.

“I was surprised at just how much light came from the Aurora,” Durson said.

She explained some of her technique, which entailed using the ISO on her digital camera. ISO is one of the things that lets a camera pick up more light. The higher the ISO, the more the light around you can be captured.

“At first I had the ISO cranked up because it was a night shoot, but quickly realized that I could get the ISO way down and pretty short shutterspeed considering it was night,” Durson said. “I could have used the photos as they came out of camera without post processing if I wanted and they would have been impressive by themselves with all those colors.”

However, she's got an expert hand at post processing as well: that's partially how she shows off such wowing colors in these shots.

“I first went to the Bandon Marina, then headed over to the south jetty to get a shot of the lighthouse with the Aurora behind/above it, and there were a lot of people out watching the event in awe,” Durson said. “I then headed over to the south side of the Coquille River where I knew I would get unique photos that nobody else would get, and those are some of my favorites. The whole river was bathed in pink color.”

The next night, of course, was a dud. On the south coast it got overcast - but in most of the state the aurora borealis did not return anyway.

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Bandon courtesy Manuela Durson - Manuela Durson Fine Arts

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Coastal Spotlight

Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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