The Unforgettable Encounter

Tonight was incredible.

I had always dreamed of the day a display like this visited Thanet skies. I knew it was technically possible. My Grandad told me stories of when he was a kid and he'd see it all the time in the war when the lights were off, but I had no idea how vividly he would have seen it!

But I don't think I was ready for just how much we could see it tonight. It was absolutely overpowering dusk, the sky full west to east and as the show unfolded the show was almost overhead here.

Chasing the aurora along the North Kent coast

We arrived at Minnis Bay at about 5.15pm, the sun had set at 16.40 and I wanted to get there during Civil Twilight, because I have captured the aurora at this time of day in Iceland before and given how strong the data was looking, I was totally curious to see if this would be possible here too.

As soon as I stepped out the sky I could see the vivid, almost neon pink filling the sky and my friend came over to the car and I was squawking at her 'its there, its there!" I was so excited for her, she'd travelled to both Finland and Iceland in the hopes of seeing the aurora in recent years and all she needed to do was wait for them to visit her on the doorstep here in Kent!

I suggested we keep moving along the coast to see it in some different locations and to try and get away from light pollution as much as possible. It is amazing how much it spills over when street lights are right on the edge of the prom.

Some more friends came to join us and it was amazing that three generations in one family, seeing them together for the first time.

I couldn't believe it wasn't even 7pm when I looked at my watch, with most of the images being captured before 7pm. There was another big drop around 7.30pm, and again at 10pm and since I have been home, there have been several more bursts of activity.

I shot at Minnis Bay, Epple Bay, Westbrook Bay, Walpole Bay and Joss Bay. Trying to capture as many of the bays away from the intense light pollution as possible!

A rare pair of visitors: SAID & STEVE came to visit!

Throughout the display, there were some really vivid shapes moving across the sky and when I edited the images, I could trace the movement of the bands of light from very early in the aurora show, from dusk and right down to when they were glowing and dancing overheat.

It is so rare to witness a subauroral ion drift (SAID) and Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement (STEVE) from this far south on the globe. In fact, I may have captured the most southerly display of these ever recorded!

STEVE and SAID are not aurora. STEVE is caused by hot neutral gas in the upper atmosphere which gets heated up by very fast plasma streams from the sun. SAID is a layer of rapid westward flowing ions in the Earth's ionosphere. Both appear equatorward of the main aurora arc. They both normally appear with very strong aurora substorms, but not all substorms have them and no one knows why, yet!

As this paper by Archer et al. shares, 'Little is currently known about the optical phenomenon known as Steve. The first scientific publication on the subject suggests that Steve is associated with an intense subauroral ion drift (SAID).' They have both been associated with nights of intense aurora activity and STEVE was first highlighted by aurora chasers and this triggered an area of expanding research.

In the video below, I've put together some annotations of the display I witnessed developing until STEVE was a dancing white glow overhead and SAID was a constant glowing red overhead.

There are some things I've shot in these images that are not aurora and STEVE tends to visit on nights of really intense activity. It is really rare in the UK.

I have submitted this to Aurorasaurus and European Space Agency and will add more here if I hear back from them!

Get Involved: Learn and Contribute

Want to find out more about how to see and shoot the aurora? I've written a guide about all that I have learned over the last decade of aurora chasing. Read it here.

A curated selection of these images are available in my Print Shop. They're sustainably created Fine Art Prints and 10% goes to Marine Conservation Society. Hop on over and have a look at getting someone a unique gift this Christmas!

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