So, after all the build up, hype and excitement, did the northern lights dance over Cumbria and the UK last Friday night?
Well, kind of. They were visible, but it wasn’t much of a dance, more of an embarrassed shuffle around a handbag in the dark with very few people watching.
Going back in time to the end of last week, you’ll remember that I write on here that it might be worth looking out for the northern lights across the north of the UK over the weekend. After a lot of activity on the Sun sent a large amount of solar material thundering towards Earth, I put out an AURORA ALERT!! email to all the members of my astronomical society, and wrote a couple of “Beginners Guides” to the aurora, what might appear in the sky and how to observe it, which I then linked to on Twitter and on Facebook, where I tried to help “get the word out” to breathless beginners and aurora novices who, in their giddy “Someone said we might see the northern lights!! WOW!! But HOW?! WHERE?!?!!” excitement were asking the same questions again and again and again, but it turns out that help wasn’t appreciated, or even wanted. Oh well, never mind, I hope I helped a few people see something on Friday night.:-)
Anyway, by Friday morning there was a lot of hype online about the possibility of seeing the northern lights over the next couple of nights, so I was very careful not to get everyone’s hopes up too much! And, true enough, when the much-anticipated “solar storm” arrived on Friday night it was rather underwhelming. In fact, everything which could go wrong fir UK observers did go wrong. A combination of an almost Full Moon (and come on, how can it STILL be almost Full??? When will it go away!!! It’s been there for weeks!!!! B****r off!!!) and widespread misty, murky, frankly crappy weather meant that the aurora wasn’t seen very well across any of the UK really, and thousands of people headed out to their favourite aurora observing sites, on hilltops, beaches and out in the countryside, to watch the show were left hurling abuse at the cloudy sky above them. But even if it had been clear that night, there wouldn’t have been a jaw-dropping show. The aurora itself never really got going because the conditions “Up there” just weren’t conducive to triggering a major storm, and the field stubbornly refused to tip south, which is what’s needed for the aurora to really kick off at UK latitudes.
So, yes… it was great to see Martin again, and fun to talk to several people who joined us in our misty, murky, moonlit, light-polluted field to look for the aurora, but all in all it was, I have to be honest, a big let down. But that’s the way it goes, and there is always the possibility of this happening with the aurora, so better luck next time…! (Which might be Tuesday night… fingers crossed…)
Meanwhile, up at Orton Scar, high above the mist and with no light pollution to wrestle with, our fellow EAS members Ian Bradley and Carol Grayson were having MUCH better luck, and got some really nice photos which put mine to shame! We joined them up there at just after 1am, when the aurora, such as it was, had died down. Orton Scar is a FANTASTIC site, and will definitely become an EAS observing site for future events; it looks perfect for meteor shower observing…
So, that was it… no sky-spanning storm, no squeals of delight across the north of the UK, no Spaceweather,com aurora galleries full of amazing images taken from Scotland, Newcastle or Cumbria. Frustrating, but hey, that’s astronomy folks! In fact the greatest excitement of the evening was on our way home from Orton, at 02.30, when we found the road blocked by a herd of cows which had escaped from a field!
The next chance to see the northern lights from Cumbria might come on Tuesday night. Cross your fingers, and watch this space for details!