After reading reports that the solar wind stream could buffer the earth's magnetic field at the weekend (04/08/13) I headed out to a good vantage point as clear skies were due to continue through the night. A small amount of true astronomical darkness arrives back in August in the British isles and I knew there was a chance of viewing the northern horizon with the right conditions for a potential aurora display.
The sunset remains finally disappeared at around 1am and myself and friend Richie started to shoot some long exposures on the camera, and to our excitement....we got green! The display built up throughout the early hours and peaked at around 2am with spectacular dancing columns moving from left to right. I went to another view point later on just before sunrise and the display turned into a beautiful high rising halo as the morning light took over proceedings.
|Dancing columns over the hebridean sea...|
It is looking promising for more strong aurora showings in the British isles this winter as something big is about to happen to the sun according to measurements from NASA supported observatories. The suns vast magnetic field is about to flip (view the video below). It could be only 3-4 months away and would have ripple effects throughout the solar system. The reversal will mark the mid point of solar cycle 24. The suns magnetic field changes polarity every 11 years and we are currently at that stage of the cycle known as solar max. This next 12 months could be the best chance to experience the northern lights for over a decade.
|Halo aurora with the sunrise brewing on the horizon|
Viewing the aurora spectacle along with the incredible star lit sky made me wonder why does tourism have to shut down in the winter months around the Hebrides? The chance to view and learn about the night sky and also capture it with a camera could be a big tourist drive. The ingredients are perfect for astronomy viewing with little light pollution, plenty of cloudless nights and the northerly position on the globe increasing the chance of aurora.
|pulsating beams of light...|
The suns magnetic field is about to flip...
To increase your own chances of viewing the aurora borealis you can follow the suns current geomagnetic activity on www.spaceweather.com and www.aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk. Try and find a nice high vantage point (the further north the better) with clear skies and little moonlight and it is essential that you have no artificial light pollution, especially in a northerly direction. The most important thing just like all nature observing is having commitment and persistence.