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  • Johnnie

Milky Way and Aurora Borealis

Updated: Feb 21

The Milky Way and the pink and purple northern lights photographed from Balranald Bay View, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

Photograph of the Milky Way (the band of stars stretching diagonally from the top left corner accross and down to the ruined building in the foreground) with the Aurora Borealis on the horizon. Photograph taken from the cottage garden on 9th March 2016 at 21.15 hrs

A crystal clear night followed another sunny and still day. We spent the evening stargazing in the garden until long after midnight. The deep black sky with so many stars on view never ceases to amaze us. Our ancestors saw a black sky like this on every clear night, but nowadays this phenomenon is confined to just a few official "dark sky" areas like North Uist. In the early evening, Ursa Major "the big dipper" was standing on the tip of its handle in the east, Jupiter shone brightly in the south east, Orion was south west with Pleiades (the seven sisters) and Cassiopia to the north. As the evening progressed, we saw the constellations rotate anticlockwise in the sky. Curious, we recently asked a friend who is currently visiting New Zealand to look at which direction the stars rotate there. He replied "your question caused considerable discussion which generally ran out of steam after the bottle finished".

The Aurora borealis over Balranald bay, Balranald Bay View, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

The Northern Lights appearing, as seen looking north from our garden at 21.10 hrs on 9th March 2016

Although it was pitch black, the birds continued to feed in the bay. The sounds of Oystercatcher, Curlew, Whimbrel, Plover and Geese regularly filled the air. Even though it was still and the tide was out, the Atlantic Ocean continued to roar and thunderous crashing waves could be heard out to sea.

Unexpectedly, the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) appeared on the horizon quite close to one end of the Milky Way around 22.00 hrs. According to tonight's official "Aurora forecast", the Northern Lights were not supposed to be visible below a latitude in line with northern Scandinavia. Yet here they were in North Uist. Although of relatively low intensity tonight, their characteristic dance of moving colours was magical. The sky was also forecast to be cloudy before midnight. It wasn't. Glad we ignored the weather forecast tonight and made the effort to stay out late.

The photo below was taken looking north from the garden at 23.20 hrs on 9th March 2016. The brilliant Pleiades constellation (seven sisters) in the top left hand corner. The Aurora colours have now developed into red/orange together with green. The white light on the horizon is the lighthouse on the offshore island of Haskeir.

Amazing night sky photographed from Balranald Bay View cottage, North Uist. There are thousands of stars. Pleiades is visible and the orange and yellow northern lights to the north
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