Capturing the aurora borealis


Rob Nolan sees the breathtaking Northern Lights in Finland as his 40th birthday surprise became an unforgettable aurora adventure

This month I had planned to showcase the Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks, which I did manage to capture earlier in March – but something else really special happened this month. I turned 40, and my wonderful wife whisked me away for a surprise few days in Finland and the Arctic Circle. Along with the snowmobile rides and husky sledding, I was, of course, aurora hunting long into the nights.
It was looking as though we were going to return home without seeing this amazing phenomenon, but on the final night of the trip, we got the Aurora Alert on our phones. It was visible above our resort! That night I was able to tick off a particularly special bucket list item, witnessing the amazing Northern Lights with my own eyes. We were treated to a great show for a good few hours!
Of course, I took my new mirrorless camera with me and spent the next few hours capturing various images of the display. And I couldn’t not share this amazing experience with all of you.
So this month’s image just has to be the astounding aurora borealis, shot from the Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi in Finland.
The aurora can be seen near the poles of both the northern and southern hemisphere. In the north the display is known as the aurora borealis; in the south it is called the aurora australis. These northern and southern ‘lights’ have fascinated, frightened and inspired humans for centuries. Solar storms on our star’s surface give out huge clouds of electrically-charged particles. These particles can travel millions of miles, and some may eventually collide with the Earth. What we see in the lights are atoms and molecules in our atmosphere colliding with the particles from the Sun. The aurora’s characteristic wavy patterns and ‘curtains’ of light are caused by the lines of force in the Earth’s magnetic field. We’re currently approaching the next Solar Maximum, which happens approximately every 11 years, so the chances of huge aurora storms become more likely, and we have a good chance of seeing these as far south as Dorset! So keep your eyes peeled and maybe download the Aurora Watch UK app to your phone. That way you’ll get alerts when it may be visible in the UK!
This single image was taken with a Nikon Z8 Mirrorless camera and the Nikon Z 14-24 mm wide angle lens, at f2.8, 4 seconds and ISO 1600.

The night sky, April 2024 – Rob’s guide for your stargazing this month:

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks reaches its brightest towards the end of this month, and we also become planet-less with Jupiter bowing out of view after eight months dominating our skies. There are a few bright stars that try to make up for the lack of planets. Regulus in Leo, Spica in Virgo and bright orange Arcturus in Boötes all fill the sky for us.
Not to mention the fact that if you’re traveling to North America for 8th April, you’ll have the chance to witness a total solar eclipse!
Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks passes closest to the sun on 21st April on its 71-year journey around our Solar System. Last seen in 1954, for me, it’s likely a once-in-a-lifetime event to see this particular comet, so I do hope I catch another glimpse of it this month.
On 10th April, catch a few last glimpses of Jupiter in the early evening sky – the thin crescent Moon hangs nearby for a perfect viewing.
On 12th, get those binoculars out and witness the comet Pons-Brooks pass below Jupiter, with the giant planet Uranus and the Pleiades all lined up vertically for a picture-perfect image!
On 20th, look for Jupiter and Uranus in a celestial dance. Then it’s back to the comet on 21st as it reaches its maximum predicted brightness of magnitude +4.5, which should mean its visible with the naked eye!
Finally at the end of the month, on the night of 22nd April, the Lyrid Meteor Shower is unfortunately set to be drowned out by the Full Moon. But it is always worth a quick saunter outside to see if you can see any shooting stars: they will appear to emanate from the constellation Lyra. Until next time, clear skies!

Find Rob on Facebook as RPN Photography here


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