Aurora in 1990 - 91 Season

17 - 18 Nov 1991 (Julian Taylor, Kettering)

Despite spending much time in Aberdeen its more northerly latitude was no help whatsoever in catching an aurora during this solar maximum. Numerous scans of the sky, both from the city and in the countryside to the north to avoid the city lights, proved fruitless. Unlike the solar maximum of 10 years later, there was almost no reliable forewarning of such events unless you were an astronomer studying the sun on a daily basis or had a magnetometer in the garden shed.

The drought was finally ended on 17th November, when a fine auroral storm was visible in clear skies across much of Britain. It started before 1030GMT as it was mentioned on the weather forecast following News at Ten. An immediate look outside revealed a red glow across a large part of the northern sky, easily visible despite the nearby streetlights of Kettering. A phone call to Jean Awdry, living near Hereford, confirmed that she had an excellent view of it too, all the better for being in the country well away from city lights.

I spent a few minutes gawping at the unfolding scene, and was also treated to brilliant shooting star at about 1045GMT. It raced across the northern sky from east to west but disappeared behind buildings to the north of my garden. From what I saw of it I estimated its brightness as magnitude -4, i.e. similar to Venus. I later confirmed that Jean Awdry had seen it too and was well impressed as she had seen its entire track. The Leonid meteors reach a peak on or about the 17th November, but I doubt that this was a Leonid. It was still too early in the evening and there are very few Leonids to be seen in years away from the perihelion returns of Temple-Tuttle (the Leonid's parent comet) at 33-year intervals, the next not being until 1998.

I tore myself indoors to gather camera and tripod and drove to a favourite dark site about 2 miles north east of Kettering for a better look. I was well rewarded as the following series of photos testify.

They span a period of 35 minutes from 2337GMT and trace the development of a red rayed arc, forming curtains and ultimately a yellowish streamer before then fading. The activity was mainly confined between northwest and northeast, with red streamers reaching high into the sky though never quite reaching the zenith. An eerie greenish glow, developing occasionally into curtains, pervaded the northern horizon throughout, quite bright enough to show above the city lights of Corby to the north. Were it not for November at midnight this glow might initially be mistaken for summer twilight, as the few clouds that there were in the sky were silhouetted against it.

Click on each thumbnail for a bigger version of the picture and full details.

Picture 1 Picture 2 Picture 3 Picture 4
17 Nov 2337GMT 17 Nov 2340GMT 17 Nov 2350GMT 17 Nov 2355GMT
Picture 5 Picture 6  
18 Nov 0000GMT 18 Nov 0012GMT    

Although the display was beginning to fade by about 0015GMT it was by no means over, but the need to get up early to go to work the following morning drew a halt to the fun. Catching up with Jean Awdry the following day revealed that she too had seen a fine display in a clear sky. Unfortunately Sinclair Aytoun, in the Isle of Skye, was clouded out, but must have been right under the green arc for he reported the sky as abnormally bright despite the clouds.


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