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Chasing the stars from Norwich Airport

Just Regional
Nov 24, 2014 4 mins read

If you have ever longed to see the Northern Lights but have found the cost prohibitive and the journey daunting there is now an inexpensive and simpler way to fulfil your dream, thanks to Norwich Airport and Omega Holidays.

I never imagined that I could thrill to a sight equal to that enjoyed by the lucky few from their spacecrafts and a view unencumbered by clouds which can ruin a display for those whose feet remain firmly placed on the ground.

The whole unique and enthralling experience began at the Holiday Inn (Norwich North) a short walk from Norwich Airport, when all the passengers who would join me on this Aurora Flight settled to an enlightening talk from two respected astronomers who would accompany us on our flight.

Pete Lawrence and Nigel Bradbury between them held us spellbound with an illustrated talk of the phenomena we were about to witness. Pete Lawrence, a holder of a degree in physics/astro physics and also a participant of the BBC Sky at Night programme and Nigel Bradbury a veteran astronomer, gave us an informed ‘cause and effect’ talk of the Aurora Borealis. For instance did you know that Aurora means dawn and Borealis means north? That October until March is the best time to see them as the northern latitudes are in darkness? Well I didn’t and I learned much more.

Many of the 147 varied aged, fellow passengers would probably have been more astronomy knowledgeable than I but the information we received was easy to follow and more importantly built an excitement that didn’t dwindle until the flight was over.

We took off in a comfortable Boeing 737 with enough empty seats left to enable us to change position and views. We headed for Latitude 61 degrees north, past the Shetland Isles and just to the edge of Icelandic airspace and flew at a height of approximately 38,000 feet.

Once there we orbited in the blackest sky you will ever hope to see or imagine. The total absence of light pollution and every light extinguished in the cabin added a surreal atmosphere. We were even provided with strips of black tape to black out any light that failed to be extinguished, such as the no smoking and seatbelt lights, but they weren’t necessary as every light blinked off on command.

After our eyes became adjusted to this rare blackness we became avid window watchers and not just for the Aurora Borealis either. Our two expert astronomers’ accompanied us on the flight and pointed out a panorama of constellations as they shone before us. I’d never seen the Milky Way before but it was clear and obvious and those I have seen, Orion and the Plough glittered with a diamond brightness I’d never before witnessed. There were so many stars and constellations shown which I had little or no knowledge of e.g. Aquarius, Capricorn, Pegasus, Aries, Vega, Gemini, Taurus and even the planet Uranus. We were told that normally meteors are visible too but the sky was keeping that joy a secret until a forecasted meteor shower expected later this year.

The Aurora Borealis which I had come to see appeared as a glowing upturned bowl of light. I was amazed at its appearance, as, to be honest I half expected a non show. But Nigel Bradbury who has made 260 Northern Light flights and has been disappointed only 6 times was always confident that the chances were always in our favour for success.

And what a success it was! To be able to see breathtaking curtains of soft light grazing the curvature of the earth and stars gracing its borders with an unearthly brilliance it was worth every second of viewing.

After an hour we began our return to Norwich, with the blackness below being pierced by pinpricks of light from the many oil rigs in that area, almost like Earth’s own stars.

On my return to terra firma I looked up at the sky with its lumpy mattress of dull clouds and smiled at the thoughts of what I had seen just a few minutes earlier. It is a memory which will always remain with me and one I’ll recommend to anyone who will listen!

All of the pictures shown were taken on this flight by Pete Lawrence.

There are more flights to see the Northern Lights from Norwich Airport planned for 2015. If you are interested call Travel Norwich Airport on 01603 428700 or call in to their shop at Castle Mall or the airport.

Lee Todd

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Astronomer Pete Lawrence

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