Moonbow and northern lights meet in rare photo by Alberta photographer

Darlene Tanner is no stranger to the northern lights, having chased them across Alberta and beyond for the past eight years, but she recently captured a rarer sight on camera.

Darlene Tanner captured phenomena on Sunday in Castor, Alta.

The northern lights dance beside a moonbow in this shot captured by Darlene Tanner on Sept. 27 in central Alberta. (Darlene Tanner)

Darlene Tanner is no stranger to the northern lights, having chased them across Alberta and beyond for the past eight years.

But late on Sunday night, she captured something even rarer on camera: a moonbow and the aurora borealis together. 

In an interview Tuesday with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active, Tanner called the photo a "one-in-a-million shot."

"I'll be lucky if I ever get one like that again," she said.

A central Alberta couple caught on camera a rare combination of a moonbow and the northern lights on Sunday night. We talk to one half of Team Tanner. 7:39

A moonbow is a lunar rainbow, formed when light from the moon is reflected and refracted through droplets of water. It is a relatively rare sight because the moon must be at the right angle and almost full in order to produce enough light. Clouds and city lights can obscure the phenomenon.

Following an auroral activity alert, Darlene Tanner and her partner left their house in the village of Alix, northeast of Red Deer, around 9 p.m. on Sunday.

They drove about 100 kilometres east to the town of Castor because they knew the clouds were coming from the west. 

"As the clouds started to close in, we noticed something up there in the sky," Tanner recalled.

"As we kept driving, the clouds kept coming faster and faster and then suddenly, we could see the whole thing, and then the aurora really started dancing."

They got out of the car and started taking photos.

"We couldn't believe our eyes," Tanner said. "We were dancing around and so excited about it."

This was the first time Tanner managed to photograph a moonbow, but she has captured other rare atmospheric phenomena before, including light pillars (when light bounces off ice crystals) and a moon dog (the rare bright spot on a lunar halo).

Both Tanner and her partner have full-time jobs and chase the northern lights in their spare time, often sacrificing sleep to drive through the night.

Still on their bucket list: catching bioluminescent plankton and the aurora simultaneously.

Tanner said seeing spectacular sights in the sky in the moment is what she loves most about her hobby.

"When you're standing there, just looking at it, nothing else in the world matters," she said.

With files from Kashmala Fida


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.