Well I finally got to see and photograph the Aurora Borealis over Swinford for the first time in real life last night! I’ve only ever see photos of the Aurora, mostly from Scandinavian countries and Northern America & Canada. Sometimes there has been sightings of the Aurora in Donegal and on the rare occasion in the north of Mayo and Sligo.
The Aurora which is more commonly known as “The Northern Lights” is quite a common natural occurrence. It is caused by “Class X Solar Flares” and “Class M Solar Flares” from the Sun. These are huge solar explosions on the surface of the Sun, many thousands times bigger and stronger than a nuclear bomb. These happen mostly daily, but depending on the size and direction of the solar flares that determains the size and strength of the Aurora on Earth, which is measured as Kp, eg. Kp 1 to Kp 9. The Aurora needs to be at least Kp-7 or above to get a fairly decent view of it here in Mayo. Last night it was Kp 7.33 at 1 am. (Huge thanks to Anne Marie for the heads up!)
I grabbed the camera and tripod and headed for my usual spot near Knock airport. I left the house that fast I’d forgotten I’d still the 300mm lens on from match day! Anyway, I couldn’t let the opportunity go as it was a lovely clear night and the Kp was dropping by the half hour. I’d already missed the peak of it at 1 am. It was just 2 am when I got set up and started shooting. Here’s some of my attempts to catch the Aurora over Swinford.
Photo: f/22, 30 sec, ISO-3200, -0.3 exp, @55mm. Photographed at 2.20 am 23rd June 2015.
One mistake I think I did make was the length of the exposures. I went for 30 second exposures but as you can see in the photos there is some movement in the stars. This is the stars moving and not the camera! Camera was mounted on a tripod and I used the timer delay to eliminate camera shake by pressing the shutter button. It goes to show the amount the Earth moves in the 30 seconds! Next time (if ever I get the chance, lot of cloud cover tonight) I will experiment with different length of exposures.
Photo: f/22, 30 sec, ISO-1600, -0.3 exp, @55mm. Photographed at 2.04 am 23rd June 2015.
Although not as spectacular as other Aurora showings, its all that was on show in Mayo last night. It might just be visable again tonight under clear skies. Move away from light pollution and ideally on high ground with a clear view of the horizon.