February 22nd 2009, Gatwick

The pre-flight presentations were held at the Gatwick Hilton Hotel adjacent to Gatwick 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. On this occasion we were also joined by Ninian Boyle of Venturescope, Emsworth, Hants, who gave a brief talk about telescopes.

The activity predictions for tonight were difficult to forecast and a probability of 50:50 was given. Other online forecasts had given a reasonable chance of a display but even so it was difficult to call. 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 and despite desperate efforts to spot the aurora, there was little if any activity present. Pete also attempted to photograph the aurora and one image is shown below. The photo show a reddish glow on the horizon, indicative of a weak display. The quality of the star images are rather poor in the photo due to the long exposure required.

Looking back at the Bz data for the night, it turned out that Bz was significantly north during the flight and this is almost certainly why the display was so weak on this occasion.


Image ref: LGW6865 by Pete Lawrence
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