The pre-flight presentations were held in the departure gate of the
Doncaster Robin Hood Airport. Dave Cook provided a 30 minute talk on the
stars and constellations that would be visible during the flight whilst
Paul Money explained the connections between the Sun and the Aurora.
The activity predictions for that night were difficult to pin down 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 Paul and Dave provided a regular commentary on the stars and 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.
Paul also attempted to photograph the aurora and the best one is shown here. The photo shows a weak green band on the horizon topped by a reddish glow with the stars of Cygnus lying above it. Both Green and Red components are definitely auroral.
It was unusual that due to flight logistics 2 flights were operating that night with the other flight taking place from Cardiff with Astronomers Pete Lawrence and Nigel Bradbury on board and we are all indebted to both Air Traffic Control and the cockpit crews for liaising to allow both aircraft to fly far enough to at least see something of the aurora.
Image ref:doncaster-2009-01-28_PLM by Paul Money
You may download this image for any non-commercial purpose.