A noctilucent hunch
Normally around this time of year you'll find me out and about into the wee small hours chasing our wonderful summer visitors, the noctilucent clouds (night glowing clouds that sometime appear in the sky a couple of hours after sunset in the months of May to July).
And indeed this year I was fully anticipating a few sleepy days following another night's adventures.
This year, however, things have been very quiet on the NLC front. Either there have been some displays, but it has been cloudy in Northern Ireland. Or, more often, we've had clear nights, but no noctilucence.
So far, I've photographed two displays: a bit of a show 6 June and a small but delightful display on 22 June, on the evening of the mid summer aurora.
But last night - at last - saw some decent action. The skies were clearish - I had been photographing a wonderful sunset at the Giant's Causeway, and the cloud that had made the sky glow with golds then was beginning to clear. As we approached 23.00 hours, I thought I could see some hints of some possible action - I had a good feeling about the night (although that's as likely to be as a result of sheer desperation and a somewhat failed attempt at the power of positive thinking as any evidence based deductions!)
But still, I had a hunch. So I stayed out. And I'm glad I did!
Reports started to come in online of some NLC clouds already visible further south in Norfolk (where, being darker there than in Northern Ireland, it is possible to see them earlier at this time of year). But try as I might, I just couldn't make anything out. A combination of gathering low level clouds and the residual brightness of the twilight sky meant that it was very hard to pick anything out at all. But I tried and, as we approached 00.30 hours and the skies got ever darker, there were hints of the magical night glowing clouds coming through. Others in the UK were getting great views - but the cloud not only hung on with us, but thickened from the west.
At that point, I nearly called it a night. But I had nothing to lose but some sleep, so I set off for Dunluce. Again, the hints were there between cloud gaps. But a clear band up to about 5 degrees along the northern horizon gave me an idea. I put on my 300 mm zoom lens and zoomed right in to the gap. Again, I could see hints of structure just below the clouds. But the views were quite cool as I could see some far distant Scottish islands dozens of miles away. I reckon the island here is Tiree, about 75 miles away from where I was standing. And I could make out the lighthouse on its western edge!
Over the next hour or so, the cloud at last began to clear. And I was treated to my first proper NLC display of the 2015 season. And I remembered once again why they are such an amazing sight to see. In the deepest twilight of July, as the rest of the sky takes on a deep blue and purple colour, and set against the rich burnt orange of the sunset horizon, here are these dazzling electrich blue and white night glowing clouds. It extended far across the horizon, west to east. And the dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean were lit by this mystical light.
After about another half hour or so, the cloud again closed in. But I had got my fill. My hunch proved right. I'm going to be tired today - but, as ever, it's so worth it!