February 20th 2009, East Midlands Airport

Pre-flight presentations were held in the departure lounge at East Midlands Airport. Paul Money provided a 30 minute talk on the stars and constellations that would be visible during the flight while Pete Lawrence described the origin of the aurora and gave a forecast for the activity that might be seen during the flight.

Pete had given a 50/50 chance of viewing the aurora for this flight based on the fact that there were conflicting forecasts from various sites. The main hope for a display came from the fact that a cloud of charged particles from a coronal hole on the Sun was due to impact the Earth on the 21st February. What we were hoping for on this occasion, was to see the effects of the front of this stream during our flight.

Assessing the potential for the display can be difficult due to the widely fluctuating orientation of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF). The vertical component of the interplanetary magnetic field is known as Bz and 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. Bz was south during the flight which also assisted the display.

As we headed north the cabin was plunged into darkness and as our eyes started to dark adapt, so the beauty of the winter night sky began to reveal itself to us. As we approached station, Pete Lawrence took a number of test shots which revealed a distinctive green band topped with a reddish glow. On station the aurora appeared bright and showed a good amount of structure which changed quite extensively throughout the session. The movement and forms within this display were stunning.

During the flight Pete Lawrence and Nigel Bradbury provided an enthusiastic commentary on the stars, constellations and auroral activity visible outside the plane windows while Paul Money wandered down the cabin to assist passengers. Pete also attempted to photograph the aurora and the best images are shown below. Exposure times were in the order of 10-20s which, coupled with the fact that the camera had to be hand-held against the cabin window, explains the slight distortions visible in the stars.

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

Please feel free to download and use the images for any purpose you like as long as it's of a non-commercial nature. If you would like to purchase a souvenir 12"x8" photographic print of any of these photographs, please click on the link provided. Secure payment is made via PayPal but you don't need a PayPal account to purchase, just a credit or debit card. Delays may occur if you order during a busy flight sequence so please allow up to 28-days for delivery.


Image ref: EMA6656 by Pete Lawrence
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Image ref: EMA6661 by Pete Lawrence
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Image ref: EMA6663 by Pete Lawrence
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Image ref: EMA6664 by Pete Lawrence
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Image ref: EMA6670 by Pete Lawrence
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Image ref: EMA6673 by Pete Lawrence
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Image ref: EMA6677 by Pete Lawrence
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Image ref: EMA6712 by Pete Lawrence
You may download this image for any non-commercial purpose. If you'd like a 12"x8" photographic print of it (7.00+ p&p) please click the button below.



Image ref: EMA6716 by Pete Lawrence
You may download this image for any non-commercial purpose. If you'd like a 12"x8" photographic print of it (7.00+ p&p) please click the button below.