Brighton Aurora - to my knowledge I have managed to capture the first ever aurora borealis (Northern Lights) from Brighton (or to be more specific Ditchling Beacon - a 5 minute drive from the edge of the built-up area of Brighton) 💜
I was unsure if it would be possible to capture the aurora from this location as it is very heavily light polluted with many small villages and towns directly to the north. I had also, unsuccessfully, tried to capture the aurora for the past 3 years, finally achieving it on Sunday 26th February 2023, much to my delight!
NOTE: a 'Questions & Answers' section follows the following photographs/technical information.
PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE BRIGHTON AURORA:
Please note that the following photos aren't in chronological order!
BRIGHTON AURORA PHOTO 01
Photo: Aurora from Ditchling Beacon looking north towards Hassocks, Ditchling and Burgess Hill.
Description: The light pollution to the north is strong from this location, but you can clearly see the pink of the aurora shooting up the sky. The Milky Way can also be lightly seen from the top-left corner to the middle of the photo.
I had captured a less 'active' photo of the aurora an hour or so before this, but with a complete halt in auroral activity I was just about to give up and leave. I decided to take this one last photo to see if anything was still visible and immediately saw that the aurora was much more active than before!
Time Captured: 26/02/23 - 23:05.
BRIGHTON AURORA PHOTO 02
Photo: The Aurora Borealis reflecting in Ditchling Beacon Dew Pond.
Description: I took this minutes after the above photo. As I mentioned, I was just about to give up due to the lull in auroral activity and the fact that it was freezing cold out. However, upon discovering that it was even bigger than before I then ran to try and capture this composition of the aurora reflecting in the dew pond, which turned out to be my favourite photo 😃
Time Captured: 26/02/23 - 23:10.
Settings: f/4, ISO 1600, 15s @ 14 mm.
BRIGHTON AURORA PHOTO 03
Photo: Wide-Angle View of the Aurora Borealis reflecting in Ditchling Beacon Dew Pond.
Description: The strength of the aurora had died down by now in this wider view of the dew pond. The star 'Vega' can be seen brightly reflecting in the water next to the tree at the edge of the dew pond. Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra and the fifth brightest star in the sky.
Time Captured: 26/02/23 - 23:20.
BRIGHTON AURORA PHOTO 04
Photo: Aurora and the Waxing Crescent Moon High in the Sky
Description: This bright 42.2% waxing crescent Moon no doubt washed out some of the aurora, but it added an element of interest for this photo looking west along Ditchling Beacon - with Brighton to the left and Ditchling/Hassocks to the right.
Time Captured: 26/02/23 - 21:40.
Settings: f/5.6, ISO 1600, 30s @ 14 mm.
BRIGHTON AURORA PHOTO 05
Photo: Aurora from the Ditchling Beacon Car Park
Description: The very first photo I captured of the aurora from Ditchling Beacon - when I saw the purple/pink colour on the back of my camera I knew what it was straight away! The Andromeda galaxy can also be seen in this photo as a small smudge a little bit to the left of the centre of the photo.
Time Captured: 26/02/23 - 21:28.
Settings: f/2.8, ISO 1600, 13s @ 24 mm.
BRIGHTON AURORA PHOTO 06
Photo: Lone Tree and the Aurora
Description: A short walk from the car park with the aurora above a lone tree and the Milky Way just about visible from the middle of the photo to near the top-left corner.
Time Captured: 26/02/23 - 21:47.
Settings: f/5.6, ISO 1600, 30s @ 14 mm.
COMPARISON PHOTO WITHOUT THE AURORA:
A photo taken just 8 minutes after the photo with the lone tree above - showing the same view looking north as the first photo, but with only a slight hint of the aurora to the left. n.b. at the time I assumed it had fully disappeared as I couldn't see any sign of it on my camera!
Time Captured: 26/02/23 - 21:55.
Settings: f/3.5, 13s, ISO 1000 @ 24 mm.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
* WHAT CAUSES THE AURORA (a very brief explanation)?
Aurora's are caused when ejections from the Sun create solar winds sending electrically charged particles (electrons) towards Earth that collide with the oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere. The collisions 'excite' the oxygen and nitrogen molecules transferring energy to them - when the molecules return to their original state that is when they release photons in the form of bursts of light energy, i.e. the aurora.
* WHAT CAUSES THE COLOURS OF THE AURORA?
The different colours of the aurora relate to the composition of the Earth's atmosphere at different altitudes:
Green - produced by excited oxygen molecules at low altitudes.
Red - produced by excited oxygen molecules at high altitudes.
Pink/Dark Red - produced by nitrogen molecules.
Blue/Purple - produced by excited hydrogen and helium high in the ionosphere.
* WAS IT VISIBLE WITH THE NAKED EYE?
Unfortunately, no, I could only see the dark of the night and some stars - only when I took a long exposure with my camera did I see the colours of the aurora appear. The light pollution to the north is likely too strong (along with the Moonlight on this occasion) that it made visibility of the night sky too difficult. However, it is possible that it would have been visible from a much less light polluted area further to the east/west of Brighton, or if the aurora was even stronger (although this one was huge as it was!).
* WHY COULD YOU SEE IT WITH THE CAMERA AND NOT THE NAKED EYE?
It's the same principal as how any night sky photos can reveal details of the stars and astro objects - the camera can keep capturing light onto its sensor for a much longer time than our vision whereas we just see one image in real-time. The camera can also amplify the data it's received to make it even brighter (which you can also do with editing as well!).
* WHAT DOES THE AURORA LOOK LIKE WITH THE NAKED EYE?
To the naked eye the aurora will generally look like a dark haze, although if it is an especially intense aurora (and/or you are much further north) you may be able to see the dark green colour the aurora produces, as our eyes see best in the green/yellow/orange part of the spectrum.
* AURORA LEVEL?
The K-index is used to characterize the magnitude of geomagnetic storms.
Kp 1-4: Quiet to Active Storm
Kp 5-6: Moderate Storm
Kp 7-9: Strong to Extreme Storm
For the aurora that I took these photos in the Kp index was 6. Amazingly the aurora continued to be even stronger the following day (Kp7), however, the 100% cloud cover meant taking photos of the skies above were impossible!
n.b. I have been following aurora activity for almost 3 years since mid-2020 and it has only been this high on one other occassion - on 4th November 2021. The good news is that we are approaching 'solar maximum' in 2025 so it is possible that stronger auroras like this might become more common over the coming years?!
* WHAT CAMERA EQUIPMENT DID YOU USE?
Camera: Nikon D750.
Lens: Samyang 14 mm / Tamron 24-70 mm G2.
Tripod: Benro MeFoto Roadtrip.
Non-Essentials: Remote Shutter Release / Spare Battery / Headtorch (with a red light that doesn't affect night vision).
* WHAT CAMERA SETTINGS SHOULD I USE TO PHOTOGRAPH THE AURORA?
Please see the settings I have used above each photo for reference. Note that those and the info below are just a guide and not absolutes!
Camera Lens: as wide as possible to try and help 'discover' the aurora and also potentially capture its full width. i.e. 14-24 mm (Full-Frame).
F-Stop: as wide open as possible (low numbers) to let in more light. e.g. f/2.8, f/3.5, f/4 (whatever your lens goes down to!).
ISO: between ISO 800-1600 is a good basis - if your photo is still heavily underexposed you can try pushing it to ISO 3200.
Shutter Speed: anywhere from 5-25 seconds. This will depend on your other settings, but most importantly the focal length of your lens - as wider lenses can have longer shutter speeds before star trailing is noticeable. E.g. a good shutter speed for a 14 mm lens is 20 seconds, but with a 24 mm lens you're looking closer to 13 seconds.
* INFORMATION ABOUT DITCHLING BEACON:
Ditchling Beacon (National Trust) is the highest point in East Sussex at 248 metres above sea level, which is one of the main reasons I chose it, the other being that it was the quickest place I could get to from Brighton! Ditchling Beacon is a beautiful countryside spot with easy access paths to the Chattri and Jack and Jill Windmills. During the summer and weekends the 79 bus runs services from Brighton to the Beacon.
⭐️ BRIGHTON CALENDAR 2024 - including photos of the Aurora Borealis, Huge Moons, Milky Way and Solar Eclipse! - AVAILABLE NEXT WEEK! (click to preview!) ⭐️
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Hope you enjoyed reading about the first ever Brighton Aurora - feel free to leave a comment if you liked it! 😊