I absolutely love all of the recognition and attention our dark skies are getting - as an avid aurora hunter and dark sky chaser over the years, it's amazing how much freely available information, events and possibilities are around us now.
One thing you'll continuously see if you read the comments or join any groups related to dark skies, northern lights, etc. will be the continuous "TURN YOUR LIGHTS OFF"! I totally get it... I don't know how many high-beam headlights have glared into my eyes or flashlights have left weird marks in my shots. But there's more to it than just keeping your lights to a minimum.
(I also want to point out, park your car before you turn your lights all the way off. And if you're in danger, lost, or anything similar, just turn your flashlight on. The people will survive, and I'd like you to as well.)
So let's tackle that first.
- Leave no Trace Ethics. I'm putting this at number 1, because after the past few northern lights events the popular locations have been littered with garbage. Take your garbage home with you.
- Keep the white lights to a minimum.
- Use a red light flashlight or headlamp. I prefer a headlamp because then my hands are free, but whatever tickles your fancy. Red light doesn't mess with your naturally adjusted night vision, so it's perfect to "see" and "see".
- Keep the noise down. Many people find peace and serenity in stargazing and seeing the northern lights - keep your music, loud voices, and overall noises down to a respectful level.
- Don't trespass. Usually, these things are pretty well marked, and if you have to climb over a fence to get in, you know you've crossed the line.
- Respect those around you. I talked a little in another post about photographers, not monopolizing space so they can do a 5-hour time-lapse, on the other side, if you see someone actively taking photos, go around them, wait for a second, and don't for the love of all the patience I have a stand in front of them and dance, wave or do any other distracting, in the frame nonsense. It's not cute.
- If there are telescopes set up for viewing, share. This is usually at specific events, but if there are viewing telescopes set up for the public (or just your group of friends), share. Nothing's worse than Kevin who won't give up the telescope for more than 33 seconds/hour.
- Be aware of your surroundings: I can't emphasize this enough - it's dark, and it's easy to become disoriented. Take note of where you are, what's around you, and what safety hazards to watch for.
- No. Fires. I get it, I love a good beach fire as much as anybody else, potentially more than many. But when there is a "no fires" rule or when the northern lights have a chance of creeping into the sky when people are out stargazing to see [comet, planet, event] align - it's the same as just turning on your brights... no fires, please.
- Don't gate keep. If you're experienced and someone is trying to ask you a question you know the answer to, just answer it. These are bucket list items for many people, instead of making it harder, help make it more exceptional.
- Photographers: adding light or light painting to a scene with the northern lights is fun, and creative and can make a blah image wowzers! If you have other people viewing/photographing near you, give them a heads-up first, maybe they'll join you. Or maybe your plan will send your flashlight straight into their lens - it's best to know which.
[UPDATE] I had originally added safety to the end of the Chasing the Northern Lights in Northern Michigan post, but after seeing another article of a family that got stranded on a season road in the UP, I wanted to add this here as well.
This should really be general practice for any sort of outdoor ventures, hiking, night anything, etc... but just in case:
- Always tell somebody where you are going and tentatively when you'll be back.
- Stay on designated trails and paths.
- Bring a friend if possible
- Scope out rural/unmarked areas in daylight - especially if you are going somewhere new, remember, especially in Northern Michigan & the UP we get a lot of snowfall and have seasonal, unmaintained roads that people can and HAVE gotten stuck and stranded on in the winter!
- Bring a real flashlight - because I'd rather a little light pollution and lose my dark eye adjustment than a person.
- Make sure your phone is charged
- Stay alert - it's easy to get off course and disoriented, especially in winter and in the dark.