Welcome to the 2009 Nightskyhunter Noctilucent Cloud (NLC) gallery. Below are 74 images and 4 video clips showcasing the very finest displays I was fortunate enough to observe during the entire season, which began in May and ended in late July. Thanks to fine weather and an abundance of clear nights I was able to record 22 nights of NLC activity, during which time I took hundreds of images. It was difficult trying to choose which images to use so I decided to narrow the count down by focusing on several intense displays, which announced themselves with breathtaking beauty during the months of June and July at the very height of the season over the pre and post Solstice period. All of these images where taken from the countryside in Maghera, N. Ireland.
Thanks to a very deep solar minimum the 2009 NLC season turned out to be the best season I have ever seen in my life since I began documenting this amazing phenomena many years ago. In hind sight it was simply incredible with so many intense wide spread displays that there was never a dull moment during the season. As a result of this intense activity I ended staying up all night every night monitoring the sky for NLC formation, and when a display did form, I was outside taking images all through the short Summer nights until near dawn. As a result it was a very exhausting period with much sleep sacrificed. However, the rewards were rich with so many huge all-sky displays occurring in 'trains' for 3 or 4 nights in a row, followed by another train of fainter displays which always evolved into mega displays again like clockwork. The number of stunning displays would be best described as an NLC storm. Words cannot do justice to the monster displays during June and July, perhaps a poet would do a better job than I could. There was a time during peak season when I was getting used to observing NLCs which covered the zenith and almost all the visible sky dome, and even far into the S. Some of these were so bright that stars where washed from the sky and shadows cast as the NLCs easily obtained the type 5 maximum magnitude value and literally made the fog glow at night. On occasion the colours and structures I seen were simply out of this world, and at times even frightening in appearance like an omen portending that Armageddon was near.
I never before have experienced an NLC season which has caused me to feel a sudden physical impact once a major display was spotted. Talking to myself out loud saying ''Oh My God'' over and over was a typical reaction followed by getting family members outside to look up, then the frantic dash to get the camera and tripod while heading outside with adrenaline coursing through my body in the hope of getting good images, and in most cases I was never seen again until the dawn chorus announced the end of night. For this reason all future NLC seasons will always be compared to what I seen in 2009, so this is the bench mark in quality that the future will be measured against. Even the early season displays surpassed anything I had expected by exhibiting bold structure and magnitude, traits which are not expected to be seen until June. It was the quality of these early sightings which hinted at the monster displays which lay ahead. My very first display was on May 29/30th, and my last observation on July 28/29th. Among the most visually stunning were the displays of June 15/16th, 17/18th, 18/19th and July 12/13th and 20/21st which are the main displays featured in the above gallery. The absolute visually finest NLC display I have ever seen in my life took place on the night of June 18/19th which I have devoted much space to on this page. Images 27 to 63 cover the growth and evolution of this amazing night which climaxed in a display which was a possible once in a life time event, evident on images 43 to 63. This display was in a league far above anything I have ever seen before, in fact, it was a dream display, the kind which I had always fantasized about seeing, so on that night dreams came true. That night I captured my best NLC images to date, however much to the surprise of some people, the naked eye view was even better with richer colours on show which the camera didn't detect which gives some indication as to what I experienced on that night.
Looking at the bigger picture it was obvious that NLCs had gained a major audience the world over. They were more popular this season than on any other with more and more people watching the skies thanks to the powerful visual and photogenic potential these electric blue clouds offer. Sightings where not confined to mid northern latitudes either as displays where spotted from latitude 39 degrees N with suspected sightings further S than this. This has been a trend in recent years which may indicate major changes taking place in the Mesosphere. Looking ahead to the 2010 season I suspect that it too could be a notable season thanks again to solar minimum and the 'lag' theory which suggests that the years after minimum can be the big NLC producers. I look forward to seeing what happens. I hope you enjoy this gallery, unlike previous years I have taken time to write about each display below the images which I hope will help you get a feel for what each display was like, each image should flow to the next along a time line. I have also included the time of each image in BST.
To see more of the season from all over the world check out the Spaceweather.com 2009 Noctilucent Cloud Gallery.