Astronomical Society of Edinburgh
Journal 44

The BAA Aurora Section Meeting

The Aurora Section members came to a meeting in the City Observatory on September 8th 2001 from far and wide. The President of the BAA, Dr Nick Hewitt, came up from Northampton, Karl Lewis from Saltash in Cornwall and Dave Pettitt from Carlisle, our two geomagnetic observers were present and met each other for the first time, there was a Yorkshire contingent from Leeds and Wakefield including Melvyn Taylor, Secretary to the Variable Star Section; Sally Beaumont came from Windermere, Mike Given from Dunkeld and Dave Rutherford from RAF Kinloss together with Dr Henry Soper from the Isle of Man. Dundee AS fielded a strong contingent including Frank Mitchell, now living on Arran, and Dr Tom Lloyd-Evans of St Andrews who were very active aurora observers in the late 1950s and have recently returned to Scotland after many years away. It was a very enjoyable occasion where people could put faces to well-known names in the Section and it was reckoned to be a success socially as much as technically. I thank all for making the effort to come.

Group picture of those at the meeting

Mrs Lorna McCalman, ASE President, welcomed the participants and hoped they would have a good day. Dr Dave Gavine then took over as chairman for the morning session. First, Ron Livesey, Section Director, explained what happened to observations, which came in from land observers, meteorologists, ships and aircraft. Some 13,764 reports had been received between 1976 and 2000. The originals are held in Aberdeen University. Coded summaries in date order are held at Burlington House and master summaries are held in ink in a series of hard-bound ledgers by the Director. Comparisons of auroral activities with geomagnetic and solar activities were shown in graphic form.

Dr Mike Gadsden, a world authority on the subject, described how and when Noctilucent Clouds formed and behaved. A variety of mechanisms from solar activity to volcanic eruptions were considered as possible causes of periodic changes in the annual frequencies of NLC apparitions. There is not sufficient knowledge about the physics of these clouds. The Aurora Section NLC observations made a significant contribution to the study of these clouds. There was evidence, particularly from cosmonauts, that NLC could appear at dates and locations not associated with their classical summer appearances. Observers were therefore asked to keep a lookout outwith the traditional summer season.

Ron Livesey stood in for Jim Henderson of Aboyne who could not be present. Ron displayed Jim's slides of the aurora of 2001 April 6/7 which were very much appreciated. Ron also showed a typical album of aurora photographs received from members, the whole archive of well over 1000 pictures being held at Burlington House.

The meeting adjourned for lunch. Some remained at the observatory with sandwiches to enjoy the views over the Forth while others descended into town to partake of a repast in a local hostelry. In the afternoon Ron Livesey took over the chair.

Dr Alastair Simmons first described the origins of the aurora in conjunction with the activity of the magnetosphere. He outlined the different types of Arctic conditions in Canada, Norway and Spitzbergen and the types of protective clothing the observers required. He indicated the different types of auroral activity some of which cannot be seen except in the polar winter night. He described also the dangers of travel in snow and the behaviour patters of polar bears wanting a dinner and how to avoid becoming one.

Dr Dave Gavine spoke about and displayed samples of monastic and post-Reformation records of the aurora. The medieval mind and its interpretation of the aurora in terms of warring armies in the heavens, angels, fires and dragons persisted for many years. Samples of writings in Latin and old Scots were shown and explained.

After a coffee break Dr Russell Cockman of the Association of Falkirk Astronomers showed slides of recent auroral activity and noctilucent clouds. This was followed by Mike Given of Birnam who showed slides of recent NLC seen with difficulty through tropospheric clouds. These fully demonstrated the problems many NLC observers have experienced in this very cloudy summer.

Ron Livesey thanked the members for their attendance. He noted the presence of a good set of sunspots that day and the potential for auroral activity in the higher probability period in the autumn. The meeting was brought to a close by Lorna who proposed a vote of thanks to all concerned. Everyone then adjourned to the Playfair Building where the ASE had laid on a cheese and wine party which was much appreciated.

Ron Livesey