In Search of the lights

I spent another night on the 22/23 November at the north coast doing some night-time photography and hoping to see another aurora. The sun had recently come to life with a big sunspot rotating into view and firing off a few CMEs in the direction of earth, here's the forecast at the time.

Geophysical Activity Forecast: The geomagnetic field is expected to be at quiet to unsettled levels on day one (22 Nov). On day two (23 Nov) conditions are expected to increase to unsettled to minor storm levels with a chance for major storm levels due to the arrival of 21 and 22 Nov CMEs. Conditions are expected to decrease to unsettled to active with a chance for minor storm levels on day three (24 Nov) with CME effects combined with a favorably positioned coronal hole. A chance for a proton event exists on days one, two, and three (22 Nov, 23 Nov, 24 Nov) due to a chance of high solar flare activity and a favorable position of Region 1618.

The weather forecast was also good giving clear spells later in the night so i decided it was worth the trip, even if the aurora didn't appear there was always something to shoot at the coast with its bays, rock formations and famous monuments. I had asked Martin McKenna earlier in the week if he fancied meeting up and he did. Closer to the time it turned out he was going to be involved in an exciting shoot at the coast with the BBC's The One Show and they were aurora hunting too, so i was hoping to run into them at some stage.

I had decided on Ballintoy harbour on the drive up quite simply because it was a brilliant location and provided ideal foreground for an aurora display. On arrival i was met with cloudy overcast conditions and i was slightly worried, if the forecast was wrong (and believe me they can be) i wouldn't see a star never mind an aurora. I could do nothing but wait and hope. The harbour was quiet until i saw headlights coming down the winding road into the harbour, there was a couple of cars and i recognised Martins' car among them. I had a quick word with him and then let them get on with it and anyway the sky had improved vastly with clear patches now visible.


I checked my phone from time to time but there was no indication of a CME impact yet so i headed off with the gear to take some images around the rugged coastline. The above image is looking roughly north with Roarks Cottage on the right, ocean convection and a ship on the horizon.


At this point an opportunity arose. Martin and the crew were filming in the car park beside the cottage and they were using very bright lights, so bright that they were lighting up the rock formations along the coast and out to sea. The green colour on the rocks must be algae or some organism growing there.


Portrait version, the white stones in the foreground were lit by torch.


What a difference the extra light source has made to this scene, if you compare it to the first image. All thats missing here is the aurora.


It was around this time that the One Show crew had packed up and called it a night because the aurora wasn't going to make an appearance. So Martin joined me for a few night-sky shots. I didn't know whether or not to include the above image. You could be mistaken for thinking it was shot in daylight only for the stars to the top right. A number of light sources come together to create this scene, firstly a security light behind the camera lighting the grass and beach, a torch on the white rocks, the orange lights of Portrush and finally the moon illuminating the cloudtops and everything else to a degree.


One of my favourites from the night.


We took a few shots and tried out some compositions for future aurora shoots and the sky was clearing up nicely with so many stars on view. It was around 3am and i'd been here over 5 hours so an enjoyable night had to come to an end. Martin had another big day ahead of him back here at the coast so we decided to hit the road. He was successful at catching the aurora the next night together with the film crew, read all about it in his image report.
Looking forward to the next north coast adventure.