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Aurora borealis over UW-Madison campus Photo credit to Wenxin (Sabrina) Wu and Shenwei (Erick) Shenwei Yin
April 27, 2023

ECE students capture amazing video of aurora borealis

Written By: Allyson Crowley


In 2020, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) students Wenxin (Sabrina) Wu (ECE’22) and Shenwei (Erick) Yin (AMEP’22) drove over 20 hours to Maine in search of the northern lights…but came home without a sighting. So, they were thrilled when meteorologists predicted that the scientific phenomenon known as aurora borealis might make an appearance in their own back yard on the night of April 23rd. Wu remembers thinking, “Now the aurora actually comes to Madison, Wisconsin!”

Wu and Yin, both first year ECE PhD students, set up two cameras in their UW-Madison campus apartment to capture the event. The results are colorful time-lapse videos of the over two-hour light show. According to Wu, “It was indeed a very exciting moment as we have never seen an aurora in our whole life.”

April 23, 2023 Aurora Borealis over University of Wisconsin – Madison

The light is created when energized particles from the sun hit the Earth’s upper atmosphere where the Earth’s magnetic field redirects them toward the poles. The first video (shown above) was captured on April 23, 2023 from 10:30pm until 1:33 am on April 24. Wu and Yin used a Fujifilm GFX100 camera, 110mm F2 lenses, and a tripod with calibrated cube geared head to ensure stability and accuracy.

The Space Weather Prediction Center had forecasted only a small chance of a minor or major geomagnetic storm for Monday night. According to Wu, “Many people thought the geomagnetic storm stopped promptly after midnight, but it actually had another smaller peak after 2 am, as seen from the wider view video.” The wider view video (shown below) captures the lights from 11:50 pm on April 23 to 2:59 am on April 24. For this recording, Wu and Yin used a Nikon D810, with 50mm F1.4 lenses and a tripod.

April 23, 2023 Aurora Borealis over University of Wisconsin – Madison (wide view)

Wu received her BS in Electrical Engineering from UW-Madison in 2022 and is now studying quantum sensing with ECE Assistant Professor Jennifer Choy. Yin received his BS in Applied Math and Engineering Physics from UW-Madison and is now studying photonics with Jack St. Clair Kilby Associate Professor and H.I. Romnes Faculty Fellow Mikhail Kats.