January 28th 2009, Cardiff

The pre-flight presentations were held in the main lobby of the Cardiff International Airport. Nigel Bradbury provided a 30 minute talk on the stars and constellations that would be visible during the flight whilst Pete Lawrence explained the connections between the Sun and the Aurora.

The activity predictions for tonight were indifferent and a forecast of 50:50 was given. The vertical component of the interplanetary magnetic field, known as Bz was north on this evening, which was not ideal for an auroral display. If Bz points south, the IMF and Earth's magnetic field can connect and auroral displays are likely to occur. If Bz is north, the fields oppose one another and the aurora is quiet.

During the flight Nigel Bradbury and Pete Lawrence provided an enthusiastic commentary on the stars, constellations. The aurora was weakly visible as a glow on the horizon but, on this occasion did not brighten nor did it show any structure. Checking the conditions the next day it did appear that Bz remained north pointing for much of the flight.

Pete also attempted to photograph the aurora and the best one is shown below. The photo shows a weak green band on the horizon topped by a reddish glow. Both components are definitely auroral. The photo shows the bright star Vega (middle-right) and Deneb (middle-left). The Milky Way runs up from the horizon, through Deneb (the top of the Northern Cross) and just to the left of Deneb itself, the reddish patch that's visible is a giant star-forming cloud known as the North America Nebula.

The curious squiggle that's visible in the left hand portion of the image is due a a bright satellite. This is confirmed because it also appears further on in it's path across the sky in subsequent shots.

Our thanks go to the crew and flight deck on this flight who did everything possible to make the experience very special.

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Image ref: CAR6036 by Pete Lawrence
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