I really need help fixing these photos. My mom (71 yrs old) had seeing the aurora on her bucket list and so we went to Norway (from DALLAS!) to see them. We did, luckily, but the photographs all turned out black! If I play with the histogram, the aurora is there, but it is terribly noisy. I'm a bad photographer and not great at photoshop, so I have no idea how to fix this. Please help!
If you open the image with any editor, you can see in the histogram (below) that it only uses (in a significant proportion) 12 of the 255 available brightness levels. This means that it only has 12 shades to represent the image that it captured.
Switching to the logarithmic histogram,
you can see that actually there is more, but the most significant part, representing more than 99.9% of the image, is between levels 0 and 16 of each channel and 99.8 of the absolute greyscale.
(The red part on the right of the histogram is just the date/timestamp)
You can still do something to "push" the exposure and get an idea of the picture:
But unfortunately it can't get much better, since the information is simply not there.
The extra information simply isn't in this JPG file since the pictures is so grossly underexposed. Here is what you get by expanding the dark areas (ignoring the silly date/time stamp and the bright spot at lower left) to the full black to white range:
This looks so grainy because only a few intensity levels are expanded to cover the whole range. The only way to deal with this now is to go back to the raw file and do the same transformation I did. With 12 bit raw data, there are 16 times more levels, and with 14 bit raw data 64 times more levels available. Still, it looks like your camera has significant pixel noise, so even that will look "grainy".
The right answer is of course to not get yourself into this mess in the first place. Didn't you take even a quick look at the pictures in the camera on the spot? Also, it should have been obvious the scene was very dark, and you needed to set up your camera carefully to make sure it captured what you intended.
Another thing to do is to always post-process from the raw file. At least you can still do this, unless of course you deleted it, in which case your images are gone for good.