The Great Northern Lights Display of 27 Feb 2014
Last night, Thursday 27 February 2014, the UK was treated to one of the best displays of Northern Lights in the past twenty years. Twitter erupted with excitement, and then pictures, which my good friend @VirtualAstro and myself @darkskyman RT-ed and commented on throughout the evening.
Below is just a sample of some of the best images that came in last night, but before that let’s look at why this aurora display was so good.
Two days previously a large sunspot on the surface of the Sun erupted with a huge X-class flare, rated at X4.9, the strongest of the year so far. This flare blasted off material from the Sun’s surface in what’s known as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). We knew that this material wasn’t aimed straight at us, but last night, two days after the eruption, it sideswiped the Earth, getting caught in our magnetic field and funnelled to the north and south poles.
It just so happened that the angle of the impact, and the timing, was perfect for evening skywatchers across the UK, and with largely clear skies across the country reports started coming in around 7pm that we might be about to see storm level activity. In the end it was rated as G2 (moderate) but the position of the auroral oval meant that even this moderate storm produced some of the best views of aurorae in the UK that I can remember.
Don’t be downhearted if you missed it; there’s a chance (55% according to NOAA) that we might see more tonight as we move through the wake of the CME. It’s unlikely to be as good as last night’s show, but still worth a look.
I tweeted the best way to see the aurora:
Then images started coming in!
This from @garethpaxton in Central Scotland (a pic of the viewfinder of his camera):
Then this beautiful one from Jim Hunter Images in East Lothian:
From @ross1772 in Newmill, Scotland
Dave @makapala uploaded a bunch of images taken from Fife to his Flickr account:
Mark Tait @marktait78 got this amazing image from Aberdeenshire, showing the verticality of the aurora:
England also got some of the action with the aurora stretching as far south as Uttoxeter, in this image by @RichardH082:
And Whitby (from @whitbyglenn)
From Ravenscar (from @andy_exton)
And NE England (via @Astro_Matt27)
Northern Ireland got in on the action too, as this amazing image from Paul Martin shows:
But of course the best of it was in the north of Scotland, such as this stunning image from Innes Mackay in Lewis: