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The beginning of a new adventure closer to NLC's

As a chapter of my life ends, my professional career took a very unexpected turn. Hint: it has to do with science, astronomy, noctilucent clouds, and photography...No guesses yet? Here is the answer.

We have all gone through the frustrating period of time between two jobs. The same questions come back over and over again. What now? Should I take a sabbatic year? Should I travel? Should I pursue in the same direction? Should I do something different? What about the money? Most of the time, the decision you are going to make depends on a lot of restraining factors and you are (almost) always going to make sacrifices. Children, money, doing what you like, traveling, accommodation... You rarely get the choice that scores 100% on each of these categories. By having no strings attached in Denmark, I got rid of the children problem. However it has been a long period of intense thinking, researching and grinding to get something decent. In vain though, until now. As I was firing emails around to universities and professors, I received mid-May an email from Jason Reimuller, Executive director of the Project PoSSUM, a NASA-funded aeronomy research project. Jason explained to me that he watched my NLC videos on the web and got really interested in them, as he thought they were unique and novelty. He invited me to look further into their project if I was interested, and finished the email by, 'happy to collaborate'. I wasn't sure what he meant, maybe just the fact that he shared my videos on their facebook page. I replied to him after reading thoroughly all the content of their website. 'WOW!' I thought, I was blown away.

The project PoSSUM stands for 'Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere' and is, as its name indicates, a non-profit research company funded by NASA, that conducts citizen-based research in the upper mesosphere. Along with being a veritable academy with integrated graduate programs, the Colorado-based center also offers research and missions in the fields of noctilucent clouds/aeronomy, and bioastronautics/human factor. You can imagine my face when I first read 'noctilucent clouds'... As a special focus, the team, composed of astronauts, scientists and technicians, studies the tomography and behavior of these polar mesospheric clouds, as they are barely understood yet. Since their altitude (some 80km above our heads) makes any kind of sampling/man-based mission extremely complicated, nothing has been done to really study their structure up-close, at least until now. The hypotheses speculated around NLC's aren't benign, not about the consequences since they are unknown, but more about the causes. According to these theories, the origins of noctilucent clouds could, among others, directly be related to climate change, as they may form from CO2 and methane, producing water vapor by chemical reaction, which in turn crystallizes into tiny ice particles to form the clouds. Papers and scientists have reportedly seen an increase in NLC sightings and occurrences, strongly correlated by an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane. This single hypothesis makes NLC extremely valuable as they now constitute a sensitive and visual thermometer for climate change. That can explain the sudden interest of research institutions like project PoSSUM.

I hadn't heard back from Jason in about 20 days, as he probably was very busy with his upcoming mission. As I was sending another batch of emails, I decided to re-send an email on their website. Guess who answered on the same day!? Jason and I convened a sky chat later that night. I was so excited to share ideas and thoughts with him. At around 10 pm, we sat for about an hour talking about different things like going deeper into their research programs, what I had been doing professionally, what my motivations were, and how I would be able to help them. After an excellent exchange, we concluded that I could help them during their launch mission in High Levels, Alberta, Canada on June 24th, at least for now. I can't describe how happy I was, because this was going to be my door to a new page of my life. It was the opportunity of a life time, because it came at a very unexpected and trying time, and because it satisfies everything I want to put forward professionally: science/research, photography/film and education. I am not going to lie to you, these fields are the three columns in my CV. Plus I have everything to gain from this experience, like meeting new people, traveling, photographing, filming, doing research, explore new territories. I am very grateful to Jason for finding me at this time, even though I know it was totally coincidental!

My mission with the High Level team this summer consists of using my skills and experience with photographing NLC from the ground, as a way to correlate and corroborate the data and pictures taken on board of planes launched from High Levels, AB. The flying team's mission is to get monochrome pictures of NLC as detailed and noise-free as possible, to get a better understanding at how they behave. I also hope to help the project with my skills in visual education and science as well: PoSSUM has a real emphasis on educating communities and schools about NLC, which is, to me, essential for science. I cannot contain my joy, but I have to operate quickly now, finishing my job at OE, while taking 2-am webinars with the PoSSUM team, not to mention the hassle of moving out in a hurry! However it is all for the best, and no matter what, I am sure that my life and view of our world will again be forever changed!! As a tribute to this new opportunity, I finished a short time-lapse film. In this movie, almost exclusively shot at 500mm focal length, I assembled a series of 4K time-lapse sequences from the 2016 NLC season, all taken with my Sony a7rII and Canon 70D, and mostly Sigma 150-500mm APO f/5-6.3. I wanted to show that, depending on a lot of unknown conditions and factors, sometimes triggered by teleconnections hundred of kilometers away, NLCs are a genuine ocean of ice in the night sky, either developing gently into a smooth and uniform billowed sheet, or sometimes create large-scale tsunamis when two currents meet. Their wave-like patterns reminds a lot of those produced by water populating our seas or lakes, but who has ever seen an ocean of suspended ice particles in the air? Better yet, who has ever studied their mechanics and behavior, when it doesn’t precisely behave like anything else on Earth on such a large scale? Bands, whirls, pools, troughs, billows, net-like strutures, and blizzard moving on top of the stars like a ghostly veil, that’s a spectacle that more than one will surely enjoy watching up close!

You can learn more about the project PoSSUM here. In the mean time, I will regularly be posting articles on my blog and posts on social media with some exciting pictures and film, so make sure you stay tuned if you want to follow my next adventures!

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