Wednesday evening’s showing of the northern lights turned out to be one of the most impressive I’ve seen, being seen across Scotland, northern England and Wales.
I hadn’t realised quite how strong the aurora might be. I’d just watched the Bake Off final on TV (required family viewing in our household) before I checked the Solar Monitor app on my phone and looked out the window at 9pm. I was amazed to see the lights clearly visible with the naked eye in spite of the street lights – a bright auroral band was stretched right across the northern sky.
I grabbed my camera and took some test shots from an upstairs window. Very quickly things developed. Bright green shafts soon appeared then the lights intensified and started shimmering – and more rapidly than I’ve ever seen before in Scotland. The whole of the family watched from the front doorstep and upstairs window (although the kids didn’t seen hugely impressed …).
Knowing that the lights were bright I thought I’d take a chance on being able to see them from Stirling, in spite of all the light pollution. By the time I got there the lights were not as strong but the green band was still clearly visible.
I headed west to a small fishing loch just near the village of Kippen. I’d previously staked out this location given the possibility of reflections in the water – and it didn’t disappoint. (The only thing that did disappoint was the ground conditions. I thought there was a path around the loch but instead found waterlogged ground, and spent the next two hours with wet feet … a small price to pay).
The lights were not as strong as the 9pm peak but waxed and waned in intensity, peaking again at 10.50pm. The air was still, allowing some great reflections.
Some more definition of swirling lights is visible in the picture below to the right hand side, with vertical shafts on the next photo.
Turning the camera to the northwest I picked out a broad red shaft. I’ve noticed this before, red-coloured lights sometimes do appear either side of the main auroral band; it’s also worth taking some test shots since they’re not easy to pick up with the naked eye.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when a very large fish jumped out the water right in front of me. I couldn’t see how big it was – I just saw a black shape – but it proceeded to jump out several more times before gliding around on the surface. Each time it surfaced it blew out air, just like a whale. The air was so still and quiet this was quite loud ! I’ve never ever heard a fish do that …
According to the Met Office the next few weeks could result in several more showings of the northern lights. At this stage of the (declining) solar cycle the coronal holes migrate from the sun’s polar regions down towards its equator. Here, they’re more likely to eject solar winds directly towards Earth. Already, 2015 has seen more ‘amber’ alerts in the UK than in the whole of 2013 and 2014 combined – and that was when the solar cycle was supposedly near its peak.