A fine display seen as far south as the Mediterranean by everybody except me it seems! I have now subscribed to the Space Weather alerts service so hopefully, subject to the vagaries of the British weather, no opportunities will be missed in the future.
Space Weather alerts have done us proud! An X5-class solar flare (the strongest possible) was detected by SOHO on the morning on the 14th, and its coronal mass ejection was directed towards the Earth at over 1,000 km per second. In the evening of 15th it duly arrived.
The skies were clear and being a Saturday evening there would be no worries about a late night spoiling the next day in the office. However, an almost full moon lay low in the south and with the lights of London to the north and the twilight which still persists all night, viewing conditions were far from ideal. The display would have to be good to make itself seen in the face of these adverse conditions.
It was! A check at 11.05BST revealed two patches of grey vertical streamers about 30 degrees high, one to the north-east and one due north. These rapidly grew in brightness and by 11.10 the north east curtain became red and merged with the expanding but still grey streamers to the north. By 11.15 red streamers were overhead, radiating outwards in an auroral corona, even slightly southwards amongst the stars Cygnus. Being completely under the aurora the perspective caused the streamers to radiate out from this point and fill much of the north and east sky.
By 11.25 the display was beginning to fade and by 11.30 the high streamers were fading into the moonlight and the low ones into the twilight and London light pollution. Further watches did not reveal anything as magnificent as what had just gone before, but the northern twilight remained abnormally bright, and occasionally there was the vague suggestion of vertical streamers low in the north. See the greenish glow at the bottom of the 17-18 Nov 1991 pictures, especially that of 0012GMT, for the sort of structures that might have been visible were it not for the twilight and lights of London. This condition lasted up to at least 2am when I finally decided it was time for bed.
Despite having camera and tripod ready for action, I judged the ambient light level was too high to allow decent photography. I was also all set to take pictures looking north and westwards from the terrace, so with the display being mainly in the east I was thwarted on both counts. However, it's gratifying to know that even near London it's possible to witness an aurora, so a continued watch on the skies is certainly worthwhile.
Of the observers I managed to alert in time, unfortunately nobody else had success. Jean-Awdry was clouded out in Hay-on-Wye and Lorna in Macduff similarly drew a blank because of the strong twilight at 57 degrees North. Better luck next time!
An auroral storm was forecast to occur between Fri 11th and Sun 13th Aug as a result of a full coronal mass ejection on 9th Aug. This was an interesting time as it looked like it might coincide with the maximum of the Perseid meteors. In the event this is exactly what happened, but unfortunately too late to be seen from the UK as by now it was light. The US and Canada were well rewarded as far south as California, so the UK might have had a display had it been a few hours earlier.