Like a piece of music that slowly builds to an exciting crescendo, the first three movements of last night’s auroral symphony started boldly and with a real purpose before exploding into a riotous final movement. This was quite possibly the strongest, most active aurora I’ve seen in Scotland.
As I reached one of my regular spots for aurora hunting just after 8pm a wide arc was beginning to strengthen. It gradually gained definition, occasionally spawning brief pillars of vertical lights. It was strong – and stronger than the Kp 5/6 suggested by the aurora forecasts. In spite of an 84% moon rising brightly in the eastern sky I was able to capture the auroral band on only a 15 second exposure at ISO1600. (I would normally use a 25 or 30 second exposure).
The bright moon gave great foreground light. Many people bemoan anything but a new moon for searching out the northern lights but I think on nights like these it’s a real boon to photographers to benefit from some foreground interest.
So the first two movements of this auroral symphony were spirited and purposeful. The interplay of light and music brought contrasts of light and shadow, with a strong arc dominating the performance.
But at 9.30pm the third movement kicked off with the “merry dancers” making a lively appearance. An offshoot appeared below the arc, dancing its way across the sky and sending pillars up into the sky before it rejoined the main group.
The fourth and final movement kicked off with a bang. Nature’s fireworks exploded in the sky, with bright milky-white lights shining brightly to the naked eye. It was an intense climax to the performance, lasting just eight minutes.
But oh, what a spectacular and jaw-dropping eight minutes!
Curtains of light rippled across the night sky, sending pillars high into the earth’s atmosphere. The pace and intensity of the lights noticeably quickened. Up until that point I’d been snapping pictures at 10 or 13 second exposures, and had to drop right down to 4 seconds! For Central Scotland, this is absolutely unheard of. And with a three-quarter moon.
The power of this natural performance was incredible. The fast, moving lights not only show up bright green on these pictures but become yellow and even orange at their most intense. The “merry dancers” by this point were swirling around the stage in a cacophonous frenzy. Forget Scotland, this was a performance normally associated with Alaska or Northern Scandinavia!
Gradually, this symphonic dance slowed its pace and the dancers changed into bright costumes of green, red and purple for the final few passages. The performance, at least for this showing, was coming to an end.
It had been a memorable evening. The “merry dancers” left the stage to wait in the wings for their next invitation to perform.