Auroras prior to 1990

25 Jan 1938 (Jean Awdry, Switzerland)

JA reports having seen a fine display in her youth while on holiday in Switzerland. She could not identify the date exactly, but I think I have identified it as 25 Jan 1938. According to my Observer's Book of Astronomy (published in 1967) this event is described as the "brightest British aurora of modern times" and that it "was a vivid red in hue, and some people in southern England believed all London to be on fire". Given that skies were generally darker then than now and that with the spectre of impending war, perhaps this belief was not unreasonable.

22 Oct 1981 (Julian Taylor, Malvern)

I remember that the first Northern Lights I ever saw was while I was at school in Malvern. While walking through the grounds after some evening event I looked up and saw a rayed display in progress. In the minutes that followed it gradually declined, so it is possible that even more might have been visible earlier. Viewing conditions were not ideal given that it was from the middle of a town, but the sky was clear.

Following a search through some old diaries I eventually managed to track down the occasion, hence my knowing the precise date after all these years. At the time of writing nearly 20 years ago how could I have known that it would ever see the light of day, but for posterity here is the report:-

1005BST: Conspicuous glow in northern sky reaching to about 45 degrees altitude. Three vertical red streamers are visible, similar in appearance to a search light beam on a misty night. All three beams are in the north and extend to about 45 degrees altitude.

1010: Streamers have disappeared leaving a red glow centred on the region of sky between Ursa major and Auriga.

1015: Glow fainter than before, declining to a maximum altitude of 30 degrees.

1020: Much fainter and beginning to get hard to distinguish from background sky glow.

1025: Show effectively over. Still faintly visible though probably would not have noticed it had its presence not already been known.


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