Mar 212015

This week has been an exciting week for astronomers and skywatchers in the East Midlands. Within the space of four days, we saw a display of the Aurora Borealis, normally reserved for higher latitudes, as far south as Derbyshire, and a partial solar eclipse with 90% coverage. March 20th was also the spring equinox, the day when the Sun crosses the equator and moves above the Northern Hemisphere.

The action started earlier in the week when a geomagnetic storm on the surface of the Sun produced a massive solar flare which collided with the Earth’s atmosphere on the evening of March 17th. The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, which are normally only visible in Arctic regions, produced a vivid display over Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England, reaching down as far as Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire. Areas that were free of cloud and light pollution, and had a clear view facing north, were treated to a display.

Aurora Borealis from Stanage Edge in the Peak District.

Aurora Borealis from Stanage Edge in the Peak District.

Bracken House isn’t well placed to see the aurora, but places as close as Hathersage and Ashbourne saw the display. The local press, and the social media, were full of stories of readers claiming to have seen a display. The photo above was taken from Stanage Edge in the Peak District.

Three days after the auroral display, the region saw another rare celestial event – a partial solar eclipse. Totality was visible only in the Faroe Islands and Svalbard, but the United Kingdom witnessed up to 98% coverage. In the East Midlands, over 90% of the Sun’s surface was covered by the Moon, and importantly, the clouds stayed away until a few minutes after the eclipse maximum at 09:32.

First contact (2)

First contact of the partial solar eclipse, as seen from Bracken House.

The first contact, when the Moon took its first bite out of the Sun, happened at around 08:25 and the show ended as the Moon moved away from the Sun at 10:40. Bracken House had clear skies until after the maximum eclipse when a bank of cloud rolled in from the west producing some atmospheric scenes as shown below.

Through the dark (2)

If you missed the event, you will have to wait until August 12th 2026 for your next chance to see a major partial solar eclipse in this country.

Later in the day, at 22:45, the Sun crossed the celestial equator, an imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator, and into the Northern Hemisphere. This is the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, the Autumnal Equinox, when the reverse happens, will occur on September 23rd this year. Equinox is derived from Latin meaning ‘equal night’ and is the time when day and night are exactly twelve hours long.

In effect, due to the Earth’s tilt, the day and night are not EXACTLY equal, but we won’t go into that now.

Below is a set of 50 photos taken of the solar eclipse at Bracken House and available on my Flickr account. Click on any thumbnail to see a larger image.

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