Babe Among The Stars: Aurora Report

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy

Aurora Flight

A few months ago my partner Gordon saw an advert for a Northern Lights (aurora) flight from our local airport. He asked me if I was interested in going, and of course I jumped at the chance. I'd never seen the aurora and it's high up on my top ten wishlist. Gordon booked us in on the maiden flight on 2 February, 2011 and we eagerly awaited the event. When we arrived and booked in, there followed an hour's talk by two astronomers, one of whom was local man Paul Money whom I have met before at my Astronomy Club in Cleethorpes. The weather wasn't great, it was pouring with rain but as we'd be flying above the clouds we didn't let that dampen our spirits. I was surprised at the size of the plane (an Airbus) and the amount of passengers, who apparently totalled over 100. The flight was due to take 3 hours, and when we were 20 minutes from our destination (past the north of Scotland), the cabin lights were extinguished to enable us to adjust to night vision and the toilet was deemed out of bounds (due to the door-opening light).

As the passengers were seated in rows of three each side of the aircraft, only one person at a time each side was actually next to a viewing porthole, so we had to rotate with the other two people in the same row. Luckily everyone was happy to do this even though it meant barely sitting still for 5 minutes a time throughout the whole journey. My allotted time at the porthole was well spent; even before we reached our destination I was bowled over by the huge amount of stars I could see and how many constellations and asterisms I could identify. I have never seen so many stars in Orion! All the time the astronomers were talking us through what we could see outside, which was helpful to the non-astronomers and partners who'd just come along for the ride. I happened to be at the window when the aurora first came into view and for me it was an epiphany, an unforgettable moment in my life I knew I'd never forget.

I had been expecting the kind of aurora which I'd seen on Joanna Lumley's aurora TV programme, when she travelled to the North Pole to see them, but it just wasn't like that. Joanna, on the ground, had seen the aurorae like curtains above her. We were flying at 36,000 feet (almost 7 miles high) and we could see the aurora in the far distance, on the northern horizon. It looked like a green blanket covering the Earth. It was so awesome I was struck dumb, so moved I still can't find the words to describe how beautiful it was. At my age I am still seeing new things and to finally get to see one of nature's wonders with my own eyes made me elated, but I also cried with happy emotion. A local BBC TV crew had joined the flight and filmed what we saw. I wasn't interviewed but you can see me way down the aisle at around 00.38 seconds into the video.

In my opinion the only way the trip could have been bettered was if only the window seats had been available for sale. Yes, it wouldn't have been economically-viable but I'd have been happy to have paid more to ensure I got to stay in the window seat for the whole experience. Aurora-viewing remains on my wishlist, as I'd like to see the spectacular light show from the ground.

Oh, and, Happy Valentine's Day! smiley - cupid

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