Friday, 25 November 2016

Good show

On Tuesday the conditions for seeing the aurora seemed good, a reasonably clear night, fairly calm for Shetland and last quarter  visible moon. The only thing it was cold, very cold. So i wrapped up, two pairs of socks, tea-shirt, shirt, two jumpers, body warmer and thick coat, hat and gloves.

                                                                                    Just a faint green glow at first

 As ice was expected we went over to Bigton early and the journey was not too bad at 7.30 pm. The aurora was already showing on Shetland cliff cam 3, a bright green glow and it was estimated to be a KP5 tonight so things looked promising.

We were soon in position and the aurora was already visible before our eyes adjusted to the dark. A green band arched over Bigton and Ireland and grew in colour as the evening progressed

The aurora started to show a pink, then red colour with some purple as well, it was becoming a great show, even though it was very, very cold.

About 9 pm a car pulled up and two people got out and started to talk loudly in Russian, perhaps they didn't see me standing about 30 yards away. Now had we been invaded tonight ? Russian bombers had to be escorted away from Shetland airspace and a fleet of Russian warships came very close to Shetland waters recently.

                                                                                              Very active for a while

They may have become excited by the aurora and forgot to turn their car lights off . Then one person decided to get a tripod out and tried to hold it with the camera on, rather than setting it up properly.

Cloud rolled in about  9.30 pm and it started to rain a bit so we set off back and found the road from Bigton back to the A970 very icy.

Getting back home we checked the internet to find out the further south it had become even more active after 9.35 pm

Still time to purchase a canvas from in time for Christmas

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Moon washed aurora

At last a break in the cloud and rain free night with only a Force 3 wind. That's good for Shetland so we headed out  last night knowing that the Aurora forecast was around a KP5

                                                                                                 St Ninian's Tombolo

We arrived at a reasonably dark site, well normally until you take into account a near full moon that was brightening all the landscape. Tomorrow it will be a Super Moon (although looking at the weather for tomorrow it looks like rain so i doubt whether we will see it in Shetland

                                                                           A pillar of light, game on !

While the moon provided good detail in the landscape it was washing out any aurora that might appear in the sky, except i could just make out a pillar of light.

To show how bright it was on the night i was using ISO 500 15 seconds at F/3.2, unlike the last time we went out and I was having to use ISO 3200 together with some light painting

The pillar of colour did expand for a minute or so then faded away. This is typical aurora activity, some bursts of activity are very short while others last hours.

With several dark sites only around 15 mins away we are well placed to get there fast.

Still looking for that mind blowing aurora but i am sure it will come soon, however any aurora nights are worth seeing , hopefully getting some photos as well

Looking south from Bigton is St Ninian's tombolo, this looks good in the day and at night

Just an update, the Night Sky course i am running on 11 April 2017 for Shetland Adult Education is now full and the Intermediate Photography Course which includes a session on Astrophotography starting at the end of February 2017 is also full.

You still have time to buy a canvas for Christmas, see full details at

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Aurora captured

While people have been watching the aurora for many thousands of years its only recently that we have been able to capture the aurora on camera

Often without the aid of the camera we could miss a weak aurora, the camera sensor is far more sensitive than our eyes. You have to go back to 1892 to when the first aurora photograph was taken which showed some structure, this was taken by  two Germans,  Otto Beschin & Martin Brendel using a highly sensitive plate and a wet process.

Before this Robert Esther tried back in 1885 when he achieved a blurry aurora photograph with an eight and a half min exposure which blurred out the aurora and was never published. Today with advanced digital DSLR cameras we can take exposures of a few seconds which show some great detail.

Long before cameras came along people felt a strong need to capture the aurora in some way to show others, some would turn to art, others tried to describe it in words but now many people try and capture it digitally.

As i have said before its on most people's bucket list and i have spoken to a number of visitors to Shetland who have come up in winter to catch a glimpse or better still a photograph of the Merrie Dancers as it is call here.

Green is the main colour that we see but on some occasions when there is a big storm other colours are evident such as Red and Purple although the latter is less frequently seen. The Red colour is often seen at about 120 miles up with the Green colour lower at 90 miles high and Blue and Magenta at 60 miles high.

I was glad to be out Monday night as this was the only night to have clear skies all this week, the wind was not too strong either but with a major aurora at KP6 on a couple of nights later in the week I was very disappointed to find that it was total cloud cover, heavy rain and up to gale force 8 so no chance of even seeing the aurora.

The milky way was spectacular as well. with no light pollution from the moon many thousands of stars could be seen

see more photos at

Tuesday, 20 September 2016


A clear sky and a forecast of a KP5 aurora with only a slight wind, it was looking good except the moon was nearly full and causing a lot of light pollution

I set up anyway and it wasn't long before i caught this fireball over Bigton, on the west side of Shetland, one of those events I will treasure for along time

This may be a random fireball, a rock from the asteroid belt as no meteorite shower was due, the next major one the Leonid in November. The only September meteor shower is the Aurigids shower, which is debris from the Comet Kiess, but this is a periodic event.

Fireballs are very bright meteors, with a magnitude over -4, this one must have been very bright considering the strength of moon. The frequency of Fireballs increase by 10-30% during the weeks of the vernal equinox

 Anyway back to the aurora, i could just see a very faint aurora about 10.30pm and the camera sensor confirmed this

 The moonlight was highlighting the foreground but washing out the green of the aurora

Its still good to get out any night and you have to make do with the weather conditions, even St Ninian's tombolo looked great in the moonlight. I felt sorry for those in the caravans as none of the people had come out to see the night sky

                                                                   A faint glow on the horizon still worth seeing

                                                                  The glow of the moon just over the horizon

 Apparently after 1.30am the aurora grew stronger and gave a good show. Tonight the cloud has come in and its looking doubtful whether we will see the aurora even though the forecast is good.

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