Halloween night, 2003. Four-year old Vincent Ledvina was trick-or-treating with his parents in Maplewood, Minn. Strange lights danced in the night sky, young Ledvina noticed. Those lights were Auroras, otherworldly phenomena produced by powerful solar bursts, dazzling observers in a display that became known as the Halloween Storms of 2003.
“Even at age 4, I knew what the Aurora was and what the Northern Lights were,” said Ledvina, now a rising senior majoring in physics at the University of North Dakota. “That memory stayed with me ever since.”
As he grew, so did his fascination with these light whirls and the dark sky. Throughout the years, when camping with his family in places far from light pollution, he would also gaze at the Milky Way – a long, vast, hazy streak across the star-speckled sky.
“Some 80 to 90 percent of people in the U.S. have never seen the Milky Way,” Ledvina said. “Once you see it, it changes you forever. You get a whole new perspective on the universe. You feel humbled by the vastness of it all. The experience puts everything in a new light, and you realize we’re all members of the same species, just floating on a rock in space.”
So, armed with an old camera his father gifted him, Ledvina started snapping pictures of the Northern Lights and the Milky Way, capturing the magic of the skies. Since then, he has become an authority in astrophotography, the craft of taking images of celestial events. Ledvina shares his passion – and technical expertise – on his YouTube channel Apalapse, which is followed by more than 150,000 people.
Some of his clips have amassed more than half a million views. A professor in Australia uses his videos to teach photography. But, for Ledvina, the universe is not just art. It is science, too. He first ventured into solar physics research as a freshman at UND.
“UND really encourages students to get involved with research right away,” he said.