Monte Heyman headed out to Cameron Pit the last weekend in May to photograph the stars. He had no idea until he got out there that one of the brightest displays of Northern Lights—the aurora borealis—was taking place.
“Cameron Pit is slightly out of town so I go there quite often just to take photos of the stars,” said Heyman, who recently moved back to the Alberni Valley.
“I got out there (Saturday, May 27) and stepped outside and ‘holy crap’! It was insane! I couldn’t believe how ridiculously bright they were,” he said.
The lights, which are normally not visible this far south of the Arctic Circle, were intense due to a severe geomagnetic storm. The lights were visible as far south as California, according to some news reports.
“I’ve never seen them like that,” said Heyman. “Usually you see them as a little hum and they only last about 15 minutes.”
The Northern Lights have only been visible from Vancouver Island a handful of times over the years, and Heyman said he saw them one other time, when he was 13 years old and on a ferry headed to Vancouver from Departure Bay in Nanaimo.
“They were as far west as you could look, and the north half of the sky was bright green. The entire half of the sky was glowing,” he said.
For those interested in tracking the aurora borealis, there are numerous smartphone apps and Twitter sites, like @AuroraNotify and @NorthLightAlert. The website spaceweather.com also has information on where the lights are visible, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute has a regular aurora forecast too.