The Aurora

WOW! That is what I said out loud when I saw the aurora tonight. I had never seen aurora in real life before so it was an amazing sight to see - especially from the middle of Cheshire!

I hadn't seen the news last night about the solar activity and I had been up early this morning so that I could take the inflatable planetarium to a school near Stockport. Megan and I spent the day there and decided to go back to Jodrell to catch the Wednesday afternoon colloquium. The heavy traffic meant that we missed the first half hour and we wondered if it was worth going to the rest. We did and it was quite an interesting talk about the interstellar medium and star formation.

Afterwards we went to the Crown in Goostrey for the after lecture dinner and I got talking to one of the other students. I was suprised to find out that he didn't know lots of basic astronomy facts; the sort that your friends and family ask or that appear in pub quizzes. After dinner, in the pub carpark, we decided to show him some constellations. While we were pointing out the Plough, Megan noticed a faint cloud that faded away. She thought that she had been seeing things but I saw the same thing a few seconds later. We thought it was either the northern lights or car headlights reflecting off some low level fog patches.

Whatever it had been, we decided to go to Jodrell to get a better view of the stars with Megan's small optical telescope. On arriving we set ourselves up next to the Lovell telescope and had a look at the old favourites such as Orion, the Plough, Cassiopeia etc. As I was pointing out Taurus (the Bull), we spotted a shooting star (a meteor) which must have been a Taurid. Shortly after that, looking north, we were then treated to several fantastic shows of the northern lights.

The northern lights are caused when charged particles from the Sun, interact with the upper atmosphere. They are usually seen at much higher latitudes than Cheshire (think the Arctic). From the latest data on the web there is definitly a lot of auroral activity at the moment and the USAF/NOAA have put out a report of solar and geophysical activity which details a very active area on the Sun. It seems that the activity is associated with sunspot region 696 (on the right in the image) which will rotate out of view on 13th November. The solar ejections that are associated with this region will then be directed away from the Earth and so the aurora will lessen. However, that does mean that we can probably expect some more fantastic light shows until Saturday. I must take my camera with me next time!

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 11th Nov 2004 (01:12 UTC) | Permalink
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