Jan 232012
 

Last night, I received a phone call from my Aurora-chasing friend, Reed Ingram Weir.

Apparently, the facts and figures were all pointing to a stellar show by The Northern Lights.

If I was to finally witness this natural phenomenon, now would be the time to jump in the car and make the sixty five mile journey north on the A1.

It would have been all too easy to settle in for the night on a Sunday evening but I was soon experiencing an intense urge to make the trip.

Aware that digital cameras can pick up early signs of the Aurora much more easily than the human eye, I quickly nipped to the top of the house to photograph the Northern sky.

The giveaway green haze hovering above the Newcastle horizon convinced me that it was time to go and meet Reed on the Holy Island causeway:

aurora borealis, northern lights, newcastle upon tyne, north east england

No apologies for the coarse quality of this hurried photograph, it was the moment I knew I had to drive North!

I grabbed a friend who I knew would also cherish the experience, though neither of us could ever have been prepared for the scene that greeted us.

Nearing the turn-off for Holy Island, the sky had become alive with huge columns of light, folding and weaving like waves of fabric.

Words can barely describe the emotion that overcame me — it was all I could do to keep the car on the road with such a spectacle taking place in the cold air above us.

Vast slabs of vertical green light gave the Northumberland night sky an epic cathedral-like appearance and all for a fleeting fifteen minutes or so…

As we arrived on the dark causeway, I must confess to feeling a little jittery.

The light show was beginning to fade already but it still looked sensational as it receded.  I managed to capture these images while the performance played out:

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

Gentle scenes from the Holy Island causeway as we arrived...

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

Vertical shafts of light began to appear once more...

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

...and the sky appeared to fold and crease like fabric above the glow of Berwick upon Tweed.

In all honesty, the intensity of green captured by my camera surprised me.  However, it seemed to match up with the photographs of others.

When watching this beautiful show, I didn’t see green, I saw a bluey-silvery-grey. I thought that reciprocity failure might have come into play, so I tried some very short exposures.

Yes, the images were very under-exposed but the green colour still prevailed.  Even the ‘quick and dirty’ capture made at ISO 3200 (the image at the top of this post) immediately showed the Aurora-green piercing through the urban haze.

It seems that more intense displays further north, in and around locations such as Tromsø, literally drench the surroundings in a glorious green light.

Thankfully, at times, we were able to see the green for ourselves during pinpricks of higher intensity.

Indeed, as we were arriving, I’ve already mentioned the great slabs of green light standing tall like huge, futuristic, architectural pillars in the sky.

So, this sparked a further spine-tingling question in my mind: When the intensity levels of the Aurora are reduced further South, why is that we observe a bluey-silvery-grey colour, yet we point a digital camera at the Aurora and the intense green prevails?

Is the camera able to render information that we cannot perceive at these lower intensities?  I’m sure there will be answers to this but I simply enjoyed pondering them while standing in that icy cold theatre.

I expect Professor Brian Cox would know the answer. If you know, feel free to enlighten us by leaving a comment in the box at the end of this post!

And so, the curtain gradually fell on the performance. The graceful, pulsing light faded away yet still lingered, maintaining a hold on us and making it very difficult to set off home.

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

The performance draws to a close with one last needle of brilliant light.

And let’s not forget the beautiful sky to the South, so dense that Orion (often obvious at this time of year) is almost lost among its neighbours:

night sky, stars, orion, northumberland, holy island, north east england

Looking South, the stunning Northumberland night sky with Orion standing tall in the centre of the image.

Some say that viewing the Aurora Borealis is life-changing.

Would I agree? Yes, without a doubt.

I haven’t been able to shake the experiences of last night from my mind, not that I’ve wanted to.

Furthermore, it’s taken me most of the day in grabbed moments here and there to attempt to put those experiences into words.

I’m still not sure that I’ve succeeded.

As I put my boys to bed this evening, I peered North from the window once more. Nothing.

The Aurora Borealis was gone for the moment but I shall never look at the sky in the same way again, day or night.

Keen followers of this blog and my Twitter feed will know that I am very keen on the video clip below, the Aurora Borealis and Australis as seen from the International Space Station.

It seems appropriate to sign off from this post by leaving you with this beautiful footage…

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

  8 Responses to “Holy Aurora! The Northern Lights Venture South”

  1. Wouhaou! I’ve always dreamt of seeing Northern Lights! I didn’t know they could be seen from around here!! Does it happen every nights?

  2. The Northern Lights are only visible very occasionally when certain events collide to make it happen… JL

  3. so amazed this brought a tear to my eye!
    beautful writing, too.

  4. Thank you, Bea, I’m glad you enjoyed it…

  5. In Jimmy Neutron mode I googled the colour component thing… it’s confusing if you don’t really understand the science behind the aurora (I don’t). But I did find several references to the light being pure, more like laser light: “The process produces light as pure as that from a laser; there’s no mixture of colors to confound the eye.” (lightworkers.org) Jack this was just mind-blowing… I’d have loved to be in that car going north!

  6. That’s a great answer to my green conundrum! I wish you were in that car too… Jack

  7. Just stumbled across this post, wow! How amazing that was. This is on my todo list and I believe that this year is supposed to be one of the best to do so. Great pictures.
    Sarah.

  8. Thank you, Sarah — glad you like them.

    Jack

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