Tag Archive: Aurora Borealis

A New Toy

Like most artists working with digital media I use several software applications. Sometimes I may use as many as six or seven programs to produce a single finished image; especially if it involves 3D modeling – whatever works to get the job done. One program I have used for quite a few years now is Project Dogwaffle. I began with the freeware version and was very impressed; it was also a lot of fun. There have been many updates over the years and I upgrade every so often. A few days ago I upgraded to the latest version, known as Howler. No single application does everything, but Howler is a very sophisticated, though generally easy to use program. In addition to the standard painting functions that you would expect you can also make animations. Special settings for “painting” foliage are also included and some time ago the ability to generate 3D terrains was incorporated.

I have been tinkering with my new toy and thought I you might interested in the results. There will be more examples and explanations of how I use Dogwaffle in conjunction with other software posted here in the coming weeks. I am always experimenting and trying to push the envelope of what can be done. My friend Philip Staiger who helped develop various versions of Dogwaffle will also probably be posting some of it and additional material at his website, thebest3d.com. He has also made some very good video tutorials. My thanks to him for his recent assistance.

As I said 3D terrain modeling has been a feature for some time and, like the other capabilities, it gets better with every new version. The ability to work both 2D and 3D in the same software makes some things much quicker and easier.

Here is the first image I worked up in Howler. I probably should not have put my copyright mark on it as I, more or less, slavishly followed the steps outlined in a video tutorial by Dan Ritchie who developed Dogwaffle. I really like how Howler handles fog.

Desert Sunset

Desert Sunset

To generate a 3D terrain you need a black and white image where the lighter the shade the higher the elevation; I call this a bump map. Here is a bump map for mountainous terrain. A simple, black and white, overhead image – think topographic map where the lightest shades are the mountain tops and the dark shades are lowlands. These are very easy to make by rendering plasma clouds.

black and white elevation map

Black And White Elevation Map

Here is a screenshot of the same bump map inside Howler’s 3D designer filter. Notice the terrain is a light neutral color. On the right you can see a panel with some of the many settings you can adjust.

screenshot of project dogwaffle howler 3d designer

Draft Terrain Render In Howler 3D Designer

The next step is to apply an image map, a texture, to the terrain. This is a simple image map made by again rendering plasma clouds, adjusting the color and adding a rock pattern to make it more interesting and realistic. As with rendering plasma clouds this is quick and easy to do. For the sake of brevity I left out a couple of steps required to add the snow.

terrain image map

Terrain Image Map With Snow

The same image map applied to the terrain bump map in 3D designer.

image map applies to the bump/terrain map

Image Map Applied To The Terrain

By adjusting a multitude of settings – elevation amplitude, illumination, point of view, etc., etc., etc.,  anyone can make a nice scenic view.

Here is another doodle I made. Except for the Northern Lights, which I made with other software, everything in this image was done with the Howler version of Dogwaffle on the same manner as outlined above. You can also make some very nice Northern Lights in Dogwaffle.

example 3d terrain render in project dogwaffle howler

Aurora Borealis Over Snow-Covered Mountains

One other thing you might find to be interesting.

Here’s a fractal image I made some time ago.

fractal magen david/star of david

Fractal Star Of David

After running it though the same process as above – I was curious what would happen – this is the resulting image with the illumination set to make the relief more visible.

fractal image rendered as terrain

Fractal Image Rendered As Terrain

I definitely recommend Dogwaffle to anyone, from beginners in digital arts, to professionals with many years of experience.

Here is the squadron insignia of the 1st Polar Airlift Squadron, known as “Santa’s Own,” to which are assigned Santa’s eight reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. The Latin motto, “UNA NOCTA TOTIUS MUNDI,” translates as “The entire world in one night.”


And this is the night operations, arctic/polar blue, subdued camouflage version:


The First Polar Airlift Squadron (1st PAS) has a long and storied history. Based at the North Pole the 1st PAS is best known for providing airlift for Santa Claus during his annual, global, nocturnal delivery using venerable, reliable air-mobile RT-1 Reindeer (aka Caribou – Rangifer tarandus) generally deployed in teams of eight. For operations during inclement weather the squadron maintains one Reindeer equipped with a “RUDOLPH” enhanced red navigation lighting system.

For heavylift missions at other times of the year the 1st PAS also maintains a fleet of air-mobile A-1 Moose (Alces alces), one of which was featured earlier on this blog.

There are some who think I make these things up. The squadron did ask me to design the patch, so, in a sense, I did make it up. However the idea that the 1st PAS does not exist is just not true. Here’s a photo of Santa Claus on a training flight over Greenland , in the training sleigh “ICEBAT -1,” which was forwarded to me by the squadron public information officer. It is even signed by the jolly, old elf himself. What better proof could there be that the 1st PAS exists? The subdued version of the squadron patch can be seen on the left side of the sleigh.


The insignia is easier to see in this enlargement:


Not only can the unit insignia be seen, but, as Santa takes flight safety very seriously, you can see that both he and the elf in the back seat are wearing flight helmets. You might also note that Santa is not wearing the traditional red suit. Instead he is wearing caribou fur the reindeer need not be made aware of that) as it is much warmer than the red getup and does not require multiple layers of thermal underwear.

The unit insignia are available on many items at one of my Zazzle stores. Ten percent of all proceeds from these items will be donated to charity. Search for “airlift.”


A fractal depiction of the Northern Lights reflected off the surface of the Arctic Ocean.

Click on image for full-size view.


The Northern Lights

I entitled this Qaanaaq after a settlement in northern Greenland; one of the northernmost inhabited spots on the planet. I like the sound of the word and it seemed appropriate for the image.

This image is available on numerous items through Zazzle.com; not at my wildlife store, but at Fractal Fire, where I post my fractal art.

Update – July 6, 2012.

This image received a “Today’s Best Award” from Zazzle.com.

Zazzle Award


I have a software application which generates fractal images. Every so often I set everything to “random” just to see what will happen. Lo and behold, I got an image looking much like the Northern Lights. After adding it to a night scene it looks even better.

Click on image for full-size view.

Fractal rendering of the "Northern Lights"

The aurora borealis shimmers in the northern sky

The aurora borealis (or Northern Lights), named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas. Many cultural groups have legends about the lights. In medieval times, the occurrences of auroral displays were seen as harbingers of war or famine. The Maori of New Zealand shared a belief with many northern people of Europe and North America that the lights were reflections from torches or campfires.

The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin believed that the lights indicated the location of manabai’wok (giants) who were the spirits of great hunters and fishermen. The Inuit of Alaska believed that the lights were the spirits of the animals they hunted: the seals, salmon, deer and beluga whales. Other aboriginal peoples believed that the lights were the spirits of their people.

The connection between the Northern Lights and sunspot activity was suspected as far back as 1880. Thanks to research conducted since the 1950’s, we now know that electrons and protons from the sun are blown towards the earth on the ‘solar wind’. (Note: 1957-58 was International Geophysical Year and the atmosphere was studied extensively with balloons, radar, rockets and satellites. Rocket research is still conducted by scientists at Poker Flats, a facility under the direction of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

The temperature of the sun’s atmosphere is millions of degrees. At this temperature, collisions between gas molecules are frequent and explosive. Free electrons and protons are thrown from the sun’s atmosphere by the rotation of the sun and escape through holes in the magnetic field. carried eartward in the solar wind, the charged particles are largely deflected by the earth’s magnetic field. However, the earth’s magnetic field is weaker at either pole and therefore some particles enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with gas particles in the higher layers (thermosphere). These collisions emit light that we perceive as the dancing lights of the north (and the south).

Most aurorae occur in a band known as the auroral zone,which is typically 3° to 6° in latitudinal extent and at all local times or longitudes. The auroral zone is typically 10° to 20° from the magnetic pole defined by the axis of the Earth’s magnetic dipole. During a geomagnetic storm, the auroral zone will expand to lower latitudes. The diffuse aurora is a featureless glow in the sky which may not be visible to the naked eye even on a dark night and defines the extent of the auroral zone. The discrete aurora are sharply defined features within the diffuse aurora which vary in brightness from just barely visible to the naked eye to bright enough to read a newspaper at night. Discrete aurorae are usually observed only in the night sky because they are as bright as the sunlit sky. Aurorae occasionally occur poleward of the auroral zone as diffuse patches or arcs (polar cap arcs, which are generally invisible to the naked eye.

Because the phenomena occurs near the magnetic poles, northern lights have been seen as far south as New Orleans in the western hemisphere, while similar locations in the east never experience the mysterious lights. However the best places to watch the lights (in North America) are in the northwestern parts of Canada, particularly the Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Alaska. Auroral displays can also be seen over the southern tip of Greenland and Iceland, the northern coast of Norway and over the coastal waters north of Siberia. Southern auroras are not often seen as they are concentrated in a ring around Antarctica and the southern Indian Ocean.

Auroral displays appear in many colors. Variations in color are due to the type of gas particles that are colliding. The most common auroral color, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow. Curtain-like structures show field lines in the Earth’s magnetic field .

The auroras that resulted from the “great geomagnetic storm” on both 28 August and 2 September 1859 are thought the most spectacular in recent recorded history. It was reported by the New York Times that in Boston on Friday 2 September 1859 the aurora was “so brilliant that at about one o’clock ordinary print could be read by the light”.

The aurora is thought to have been produced by one of the most intense coronal mass ejections in history, very near the maximum intensity that the Sun is thought to be capable of producing. It is also notable for the fact that it is the first time where the phenomena of auroral activity and electricity were unambiguously linked. This insight was made possible not only due to scientific magnetometer measurements of the era, but also as a result of a significant portion of the 125,000 miles (201,000 km) of telegraph lines then in service being significantly disrupted for many hours throughout the storm. Some telegraph lines, however, seem to have been of the appropriate length and orientation to produce a sufficient geomagnetically induced current from the electromagnetic field to allow for continued communication with the telegraph operator power supplies switched off.

Both Jupiter and Saturn have magnetic fields much stronger than Earth’s (Jupiter’s equatorial field strength is 4.3 gauss, compared to 0.3 gauss for Earth), and both have large radiation belts. Auroras have been observed on both, most clearly with the Hubble Space Telescope. Uranus and Neptune have also been observed to have auroras.

While it is cold and dark here in Alaska during the winter, there are compensations. One is the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Most often they are green, but you can also see reds and blues on occasion.

In the fall of 2001, just before the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, we saw very impressive all-red Northern Lights at our place in the mountains of northern Idaho. We often saw auroras there, but these filled the entire sky. I understand that event was seen as far south as Texas.

The lore of some native Alaskans say that out-of-the-ordinary auroral displays, especially red events, foretell bad times. Auroras just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor were said to be spectacular.

Also, some people claims that they can hear the lights; reporting that it resembles the rustling of chiffon or nylon cloth. There are a number of explanations; perhaps electrical discharges from ionized particles responsible for auroral displays are somehow detected by the ear.

In the image below everything looks as if electricity is causing the phenomenon known as St. Elmo’s Fire. (Or should that be St. Elmoose’s Fire?)

Multiple versions of this image, not all of them Alaska postage stamps, are available at my Zazzle store.

Click on image for full-size view.

A moose silhouetted against the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights