February 24th 2009, Birmingham International Airport

The pre-flight presentations were held at the Windmill Hotel, Coventry. 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.

Pete had given a 50/50 chance of viewing the aurora for this flight. Assessing the potential for the display can be difficult due to the widely fluctuating orientation of the interplanetary magnetic field. 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 fluctuating between north and south on this occasion with long periods at each value. This made final predictions difficult hence the forecast. Despite there being a reasonable disturbance from the Sun over the past few days, displays had either been dramatic or virtually non-existent due to variations in Bz.

As we headed north the cabin was plunged into darkness and as our eyes started to dark adapt, so the beauty of the early winter night sky began to reveal itself to us. As we approached station, Pete Lawrence took a number of test shots which revealed a weak reddish glow but little else. Unfortunately on this occasion, the auroral activity was very weak. At one point there was a brief bright patch (shown on the photo) but this failed to materialise into anything significant.

During the flight Pete Lawrence and Nigel Bradbury provided an enthusiastic commentary on the stars, constellations and sights visible outside the plane windows while Paul Money roamed down the plane to check on passengers and provide help where needed. Pete also attempted to photograph the aurora and the best image is shown below. The exposure time was in the order of several seconds 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.

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Image ref: BHX7059 by Pete Lawrence
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