February 12th 2010, Gatwick Airport

The pre-flight presentations were held in the Gatwick Hilton Hotel, Gatwick Airport. Paul Money provided a 30 minute talk on the stars and constellations that would be visible during the flight and this was followed by Pete Lawrence explaining the connection between the Sun and the Aurora.

The activity predictions for tonight were difficult to assess being similar to those of the previous night. On that occasion, despite there being plenty of activity from the Sun, the auroral oval had shrunk back close to the northern magnetic pole.

Tonight, there was uncertainty over the vertical component of the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) Bz which had been seen to have no strong northern or southern component just before the flight took off. If Bz is north, the fields oppose one another and the aurora tends to be quiet. If Bz points south, the IMF and Earth's magnetic field can connect and more active auroral displays are likely to be seen.

As usual, the stars looked beautifully crisp and clear and during the flight. Nigel Bradbury and Pete Lawrence provided an enthusiastic commentary on what could be seen in terms of the stars, constellations and auroral activity outside the plane. Paul Money acted as the onboard astronomical rover on this occasion, assisting any passengers who weren't sure what was being described.

Looking at the Bz plots after the flight, the field polarity did swing slightly southward while we were flying yet the display remained rather weak. This was confirmed by the POES polar orbiting satellite which shows a contracted and weak auroral oval for the time we were flying. The consolation that this information provides is that on this occasion at least, the weak display we did get to see was as good as it could have been!

Photographs of the auroral glow that were taken do show that a detached strip below the main glow was a weak curtain of activity as suspected on the flight. Looking through the photographs in sequence, a very dim pulsing was seen in this foreground region. Strangely, the photos fail to reveal much of a reddish glow on top of the main green aurora. Red is indicative of a weak display but on this occasion, appears to have been absent.

Pete and Paul attempted to photograph the aurora and a number of the images taken on the Gatwick flight are shown below.


Image ref: S10_9243 by Pete Lawrence
You may download (right click and save as) 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.
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Image ref: S10_9245 by Pete Lawrence
You may download (right click and save as) 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.
Please allow up to 28 days for delivery.