Last weekend was a good weekend for viewing the aurora. In fact, the lights showed up both on Friday and Saturday nights when Scotland was enjoying a rare period of high pressure with limited cloud cover.
But the most remarkable thing about last weekend’s showing of the northern lights was that for the first time in my aurora-chasing experience, the lights on Saturday night were only purple with no green aurora visible at all. And on Friday, the sky at higher altitude was a gorgeous deep purple hue.
Friday saw me camping at Tantallon Camping and Caravan Park at North Berwick, on the east coast just about 30 minutes southeast of Edinburgh. I was testing out a Jerba campervan (more about this in a later post) who are based no more than two miles from the campsite. I couldn’t believe my luck when my aurora apps signalled ‘minor storm’ conditions !
I had a clear view north across the Firth of Forth to Fife (say that after a drink or two …). But while there was lots of light pollution along the coast to contend with it didn’t prevent me from seeing the aurora. Things got off to a fairly slow start: a nice green auroral arc developed but nothing much happened for a while. Then, around 10.45pm, the sky noticeably lit up to the naked eye. Something was definitely happening ! For about ten minutes the aurora kicked into life. Green and purple shafts reached up from the arc, the sky above was painted a gorgeous deep purple and all the while the stars shone brightly.
By 11pm things quietened down again and the auroral arc gradually faded into the background. Short but sweet.
The next night I was camping at Solway View Campsite, near Kirkcudbright in SW Scotland. I was hoping for a good night of stargazing since the skies had gradually cleared on my journey west during the day and as dusk fell I could see this was going to be a rare, cloudless night.
I set up my camera at a suitable spot to take multiple shots I could put together into a star trail photo. Not only was there a ‘minor storm’ (Kp5) in terms of the solar conditions but the weekend was the peak of the Lyrids meteor shower so I was hoping to see some nice bright streaks across the sky too. I wasn’t disappointed.
I watched and waited for a while in the stillness as other campers gradually switched off lights and went to sleep. A few meteors briefly darted across the sky before burning up and fading in the atmosphere. But there was no sign of an aurora – at least to the naked eye.
I kept the camera running automatically, taking shots every 20 seconds, then returned after an hour once 100 or so were captured. For some reason the camera had decided to stop itself so I flicked backwards to review the photos. I was really surprised to see big patches of purple show up but with no green lights whatsoever, the usual colour of auroral activity through a camera lens.
I used the Star Trails software to produce a composite picture using those 100 shots, where you have a good sense of the purple aurora showing through the rotating stars in the bottom left corner. It’s even more visible looking at a single photo where the lights were brightest. There were a few streaks across the sky that showed up on those photos but given that they tend to be visible on more than one 20 second exposure they’re almost certainly planes or satellites rather than meteors. (Now, a combined star trail, (purple) aurora and meteor photo really would have been something !)
Did you see the northern lights last weekend? If so, where were you and what did it look like for you?