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.

For more Shetland photos please visit my website at

Monday, 12 September 2016

Milky Way

Until we moved to Shetland we never had a chance to see the extent of the Milky Way, this was all down to light pollution. Even if we went to our darkest spot, mid way between Sheffield and Manchester, in the Derwent Valley we would still see light pollution. Then moving to Shetland we could find darker areas, when combined with a new moon it gave us a chance to see the superb Milky Way and to photograph it.

When you consider that the Milky Way may have between 200 - 400 Billion stars it can be mind blowing.
                                               All photo from St Ninian's Isle, Shetland

When conditions are right you can see the milky area which consists of dust and gas.

While we may be able to get impressive photos from earth nothing will compare to those of Gaia which is a giant telescope launched towards the back end of 2013 and will transmit a map of the Milky Way on its Billion Pixel camera in a few days time on the 14 September 2016- so keep a look out for this.

I was pleased to capture 3 satellites in this photo 
Cosmos 332 Rocket
Cosmos 371 Rocket
Cosmos 2233 Rocket
(all within 33 seconds SSW)

The best time to see the Milky Way in the northern hemisphere is September - March, the darkest time. Unfortunately this is not the time when the brightest part is over the UK, the brighter Galactic centre is over head April - August when we are experiencing long hours of daylight, especially in Shetland with the `Simmer Dim'.

What you see with the naked eye,  is a white milky area to the southern skyline but the camera can pick up lots more detail with its sensitive sensor. You will need a tripod as the exposure, depending on whether you are using a wide angle lens with a full frame, crop sensor, bridge or compact camera can vary tremendously but can be anything up to 35 seconds

The more light that is captured the better, resulting in a more detailed photograph with less noise.

There are Dark Sky Discovery sites around the UK-
A map shows where the best places are to see the Milky Way, but amazingly none are listed in Shetland.

A recent survey claims that 60% of Europeans and 80% of Americans cannot see the Milky Way due to light pollution

For more Shetland Photos see my blog

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Better second night

Managed to get out for second night this weekend. The night promised better clearer weather than the night before, although it was windier.

The aurora forecast predicted KP4-5 for the night and checking it around 9pm it was at KP5 but decreasing and far too light to venture out

We made the decision to head west and it paid off as cloud suddenly came in on the east side. As we parked up we could see the stars and a hint of the aurora.

The glow of the aurora could be seen as a milky white area but clearly showed up on the camera, always try this the camera sensor is far more sensitive than our eyes. The photos shown here had the following settings ISO2000 F2.8 @20 seconds.

Seeing a few photos from the south east side of Shetland I am glad we travelled over to the west as cloud really did increase

Some people have said the aurora makes a sound like jingling keys, you have to be a lot nearer to a major storm to hear anything. One thing is for certain they do make a noise, listen here for the sound of the aurora on Jupiter  its amazing

To see more photos of Shetland include the aurora (Northern Lights) go to

Sunday, 4 September 2016

First Aurora of season

Yesterday was our first aurora, although a better one occurred the night before. On Saturday it was registering at KP4.67 and the weather forecast was for clear skies after 10pm so it looked good.

We headed down to Sandsayre but as you can see in the photos the cloud cover it only left a few gaps for the aurora to show through

The orange glow in the distance is Cunningsburgh which now has a mixture of sodium and LED
lighting which gives off far too much light pollution

                                                                                                Sandwick boats

While the aurora may not have been as good as expected it was still good to see the bright green colour on the horizon. At this time of year we scrutinise the weather forecasts, moon phases and Aurora predictions. If all three come together it can provide a magical night

One thing we cannot change is when it goes dark, so as we move through this month at least we can get out earlier in the night.