Tag Archives: Astronomy

Chasing Aurora in the Convertible Aurora Ship

After the long bright summer skies, we finally have darkness again and with the increased solar activity, it was only a matter of time before the Northern Lights would return to Northumberland.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen the Northern Lights from Northumberland. I photographed the Aurora back on the 10th March 2011 at Lindisfarne, not long after my amazing Irish Aurora experience.

Lindisfarne causeway Aurora featuring yours truly 10-03-11

This time things were just slightly more fun with the addition of the Aurora-chasing convertible warp ship. It can transport two persons and camera equipment at high warp.

The Aurora Ship docked at Lindisfarne Causeway 26-09-11

I was aware there might be a possiblity of a severe geomagnetic storm following three CME eruptions from the Sun. But it wasn’t until around 17:00 that evening I really fully believed that there would be a chance of viewing the Northern Lights from the Northeast.

I checked all my available data and everything added up so I called my co-pilot, friend and colleague Patrick Hussey, and we launched the Aurora Ship up the A1 at high speed (within the legal limit, of course).

I decided to head for a place called Howick to do the first check and see if we had any Aurora in the sky. As soon as we pulled up, the sky to the North was bright with a tint of green but we had heavy cloud obstructing the view.

I set the camera up on a tripod and took an exposure of around 8 seconds. This confirmed the Northern Lights were out to play. We got straight back in the Aurora Ship and headed further north. We pulled up at Bamburgh  despite the large amount of light pollution from the village and castle, the Aurora was building in strength and structure, so it was well worth a few photographs before setting off to the next location.

Northern Lights Bamburgh Beach 26-09-11

Northern Lights with the Aurora Ship Bamburgh 26-09-11

The next stop was just slightly further North at Budle Bay. The light pollution was much more under control, we could even see the Milky Way!

The Milky Way with some added lens flare supplied by the Aurora Ship's particle sensors.

After viewing the Aurora here for around 20 minutes, I decided we needed a clear view North and the best and closest place for that is Lindisfarne Causeway.

After a cracking little flight in the Aurora Ship, we arrived not knowing where the tide would be. Amazingly, the tide was out so we had a safe crossing to Holy Island. We parked up about halfway across the Causeway and set up the camera.

By now the Aurora was very bright and clearly visible with structure and an array of colours. I took some comedy photographs of the Aurora Ship but while doing this, the sky ignited.

What was already bright visible Aurora became insane with large curtains of light falling from the sky! It was quite a sight to see such a display from Northumberland and I was so happy I had followed my heart and belief that we would see the lights that night. The insane display didn’t last long, probably only 5 minutes, before it settled and faded away to just a slight green hum in the sky.

Northern Lights building in strength at Budle Bay 26-09-11

The Climax of the evening with a large array of colours and curtains of light 26-09-11

After the epic display 26-09-11

Now for the science bit. | © Tromsø Geophysical Observatory

As it’s quite rare to have such powerful displays of the Northern Lights in England, my images were published by major UK papers including The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, and online publications including Spaceweather &  National Geographic.

I will be taking my images to Jack Lowe Studio were he will be making a series of fine prints that will be available to purchase on my new website. It should be live over the next few months.

In the meantime, should you want to order a print or talk about licensing, please contact me direct.

If you live in the North East and want the chance to see the Aurora, feel free to follow me on twitter and check now and again. If it’s happening I will be talking / tweeting about it.

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Irish Aurora

Over the last couple of months I have been chasing the Northern Lights around the Arctic circle with minimal success but on the 1st of Mach 2011 when I stopped looking they decided to come to visit me!

On the day in question I had flown to Northern Ireland to visit my Aunty and we had a great day driving out to the coast looking at the huge waves break at Portballintrae we even had an ice cream, you’re probably thinking how could you possibly improve on that day? Well I often look at various websites showing geomagnetic levels and predicted Aurora levels and after a quick check on my phone at around 4pm It looked like something strong was brewing.

Tromsø Graph above and NOAA Aurora Doughnut below.

A large fast solar wind had hit earth’s magnetic field causing a geomagnetic storm that shifted the normal position of the Northern lights south. After looking over the available data I was convinced if I drove to the North coast of Ireland I would be sure to see the Northern Lights weather permitting. I asked my Aunty if I could borrow the car and she agreed reluctantly as I think she thought I was a crazy person suggesting that I was going to photograph the Northern Lights in Ireland.

I decided to head for my birthplace Ballycastle as it is nearly the most northern point of Northern Ireland. Even on the drive there I could see a large band of light in the night sky and I was sure it was the Aurora borealis,

When I reached Ballycastle I decided there was way too much light pollution from the Harbour so drove west along the Causeway Coastal road until I reached Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge car park. I parked up and jumped out of the car with excitement and there it was glowing bright about 35° above the horizon. When my eyes adjusted from the complete darkness I spotted Sheep Island and included this in most of the photographs from this location. Exposure was a complete nightmare all my photographs are totally under exposed due to the 8% moon that wasn’t even in the sky and zero light pollution, the only real light source was the light house on Rathlin Island. another problem I had was the fastest lens I had with me was a Ziess 50mm f/1.4 so in any exposures over 10 seconds the stars would move very noticeably. Even with a 30second exposure @ f/1.4 at ISO 1600 the images were still coming out dark. so I just had to balance the settings as best I could. I knew I wasn’t going to make a masterpiece but I was committed to recording this moment in time to the best of my ability.

I stayed at Carrick-a-Rede for about an hour before driving down to Ballintoy and having ago there but it was hard going with the horrible yellow lights so I decided to call it a night still feeling amazed I had even seen them at all!

Below are a selection of images from 1st March 2011

Balintoy Harbor, Ziess 35mm f/2 ISO 1600 3o seconds

Sheep Island 1,  Ziess 50mm f/1.4 ISO 1600 10 seconds

Sheep Island 2, Ziess 50mm f/1.4 ISO 1600 6 seconds

For me this was a very special experience and will not be forgotten and maybe in the coming years I wont even need to drive north as they will be flying over my head as we approach Solar Maximum in 2013 /14

If your interested in chasing the Northern Lights I have listed some useful websites below,

http://spaceweather.com/

http://kho.unis.no/forecast.htm

http://tiny.cc/mwq78

or you could always follow me on Twitter @reedingram as if the Aurora is out in strength I will probably be talking about it!

Thanks for looking please feel free to leave a comment or message,

Reed