Surprise Aurora 8th August and the Perseid meteor shower

On Tuesday evening the sky was clearing nicely and i was looking forward to getting out to observe and maybe catch a few early perseid meteors on camera. I always look forward to the annual Perseids every August,(details below) its one of the best meteor showers along with the Geminids in December. As the evening turned to night sky conditions were deteriorating again and i could feel the disappointment building and by midnight there was only a few clear gaps visible. Another cloudy night, which has been the story of this summer really. I decided to call it a night and went to bed.

I couldn't sleep and got out of bed and looked out the window to see a sky full of stars, this was about 0150 and 10 minutes later i was outside setting up the camera. Going back to bed had never even crossed my mind.

While setting up the camera for the first shot i could see a beam of light shooting skywards, i thought nothing of it, probably a car coming over the hill or something i thought as i pressed the shutter. During the 20 second exposure i saw more fainter beams to the right of this and my heart skipped a beat, Aurora!! The exposure finished and the viewfinder confirmed it, vivid purple pillars were dancing across the northern horizon. I couldn't believe my luck, i had completely forgot about the glancing blow from the CME and possible geomagnetic storms due on the 8th.
I just continued taking images and trying to light up the grass in the foreground with a torch to add to the scene. This outburst around 2am then faded off very quickly but i probably missed a good portion of it.

There was a lull in activity for a while and i wondered was that the end of the show for tonight. The aurora can be unpredictable and can flare up without warning so after a quick trip back to the house for a coffee i continued taking images. A further surge in activity began at 0225 and i was again treated to natures light show. This time not as vivid to the naked eye but the camera had no problems picking out the deep purple colours. It was at this time i sent a text alert to friend and fellow aurora chaser Martin McKenna to let him know about the aurora, i learned the next day that he rushed out on receiving my text and caught his 100th Aurora-quite an achievement!

From time to time a brilliant pillar of light would appear like a search light in the sky. From my location it shot up over 20 degrees easily, but the horizon you see on these images is really the top of a hill and the true northern horizon is much lower so this was an impressive outburst.

One of the last images i got above before it settled down again and became very faint. It shows a series of aurora curtains which were moving from left to right with greens, pinks and purples. An unexpected and stunning northern lights display watched a few yards from the back door! I just wonder what it would have looked like from the north coast.

The Perseid meteor shower 2012

This weekend sees the peak of the Perseids on the 11th/12th August and this is one of the better annual showers to watch. With the moon waning and hopefully some clear skies it promises to be a good show!

This from
Meteors are typically best after midnight, but in 2012, with the moon rising into the predawn sky, you might want to watch for Perseid meteors in late evening as well. You can get moonrise times via this custom sunset calendar. As seen from around the world, the waning crescent moon will rise later on August 12 than on August 11, and, on the morning of August 13, although you’re slightly past the peak, the moon will rise later still. On any of those mornings, moonlight shouldn’t be so overwhelming as to ruin the show. Plus the moon on those mornings will be near the bright planets Venus and Jupiter in the eastern predawn sky. It’ll be a beautiful early morning scene. The Perseids are typically fast and bright meteors. They radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus the Hero. You don’t need to know Perseus to watch the shower because the meteors appear in all parts of the sky. The Perseids are considered by many people to be the year’s best shower, and often peak at 50 or more meteors per hour in a dark sky. The Perseids tend to strengthen in number as late night deepens into midnight, and typically produce the most meteors in the wee hours before dawn. These meteors are often bright and frequently leave persistent trains. Starting in late evening on the nights of August 10/11, 11/12 and 12/13. The Perseid meteors will streak across these short summer nights from late night until dawn, with only a little interference from the waning crescent moon. Plus the moon will be near the bright planets Venus and Jupiter in the eastern predawn sky.

I have already been out on the mornings of 8th and 9th taking advantage of clear skies to watch and photograph some early perseids. For the two mornings my count stands at 17 meteors with two caught on camera. I've seen two very bright examples that left brief smoke trains.

This shot from the 8th with the perseid burning up to the left of Ursa Major

And this one from early hours of 9th also through Ursa major or the Big Dipper. This is a close crop from my 11mm wide angle image. You can see the green and orange and a flare in the head of the meteor as it burned up.
I will update this page with more from the peak after the weekend.

So get out this weekend and do a perseid watch, good luck!

Here's a few more images from the nights leading up to the peak, unfortunately peak night was clouded out for me this year and meteor rates looked to be picking up nicely too. This is the pick of the bunch including an amazing perseid fireball on the 11th which lit up the western sky, i was delighted i had caught it on camera just within the 11mm frame!

Here's that wide angle fireball shot and a crop below.

Some nice colours on this one i thought

Stacked a few images here to make a star trail with a perseid center of frame.

The next meteor showers are the Draconids and Orionids in October, the Taurids and Leonids in November before my favourite, the Geminids on December 13/14. A new moon on the peak night this year guarantees a dark sky so this is one worth looking forward to!!