Tripping the light fantastic

Posted on 02nd February 2012 | in Clubs + Societies , Community , Heritage & Tourism , NASTRO

Auroral Arc taken by Adrian Jannetta and Emma Maddison of the Northumberland Astronomical Society during the Northern Lights’ visit to Northumberland in January.

All eyes were on Northumberland at the end of January when the Northern Lights put on a great show for local stargazers.

Local and national news media made a beeline for Hauxley Nature Reserve, home to Northumberland Astromomical Society’s (NASTRO) observatory where they interviewed members of the society, who explained the aurora phenomenon.

And social media is also being credited for the rise in popularity of the fantastic light display.

Dr Adrian Jannetta, Chairman of NASTRO told The Ambler “People think it [the aurora] doesn’t happen very often in the UK. They kind of enforce their own expectations – they don’t expect to see it, so they don’t look out for it.”
He explained that the sun has periods of activity over several years, which oscillates between very quiet and very energetic. This is good news for stargazers and those who have longed to see the Northern Lights themselves.
“I saw the aurora loads of times between 2003-2004. We’re heading towards another peak next year, so between now and then we can expect to see more and more.”

So if the aurora is not so unusual after all, why is there such a flurry of excitement this time?

“The difference between this maximum and the previous one in 2000 is basically social media” said Dr Jannetta. “We’ve got NASA websites which release forecasts of aurora predictions – they call it space weather – and those forecasts can be spread very quickly via social media.”

During this time, Twitter and Facebook were buzzing with photographs of the northern lights and people sharing their experiences of aurora hunting.

NASTRO was also part of the recent BBC Stargazing Live series and the society put on several activities throughout Northumberland during January to encourage local people to take part in astronomy.
“There’s a big push on science in the media at the moment” said Adrian. “Especially the BBC. It’s not just stargazing, but science in general.”

For more information on auroras and astronomy visit You can also keep up to date with the society’s activities via their Facebook page, and they can be found on twitter @Nastronomers.

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