Northern Lights seen in Preston

01 July 2014

Lyndsey Boardman

UCLan celebrates student book launch

Debbie Williams, Head of UCLan Publishing, Lizzy Pattison, Project Leader and Lead editor, and Jonny Cooper, Director of Off the Map Travel.

The University of Central Lancashire and Off the Map Travel have brought the magic of the Northern Lights to Preston for a one-off event to celebrate the launch of a groundbreaking new book and documentary film about the famous Aurora Borealis.

Visitors to the launch of the new book, Life Beneath the Northern Lights, were given, for the first time ever, the special opportunity to experience a 360 degree projection of the Aurora Borealis inside a purpose built planetarium set up in the middle of the University campus on Saturday.

The book, and a documentary charting the students experience in the Arctic, is the work of eight UCLan students who journeyed to the Arctic Circle to gather breathtaking material around the mystical lights and learn about the science behind it, as well as myths and legends around the dancing lights in the arctic sky throughout history.

Working with a range of experts in the region to get a true insight into the aurora, some got even closer to the spectacle in a small plane accompanied by a select group of well-known scientists and astronauts.

Lorna Hargreaves, one of the lucky students, said: “I couldn’t believe it when they offered us a chance to actually fly to see the aurora. It was an amazing experience which I will never forget. There were only about ten people on the flight so we were so lucky. The aurora is so beautiful and ethereal and extremely difficult to capture on film but I think we did ok.”

"I couldn’t believe it when they offered us a chance to actually fly to see the aurora. It was an amazing experience which I will never forget"

The project was produced by UCLan Publishing, a commercial not-for-profit trust set up and run by students to raise money for good causes.

Debbie Williams, Lecturer and Head of UCLan Publishing, said: “The students on this project have been absolutely brilliant and worked so hard so it’s fantastic that we were able to share their story and the magic of the Northern Lights with a wider audience right here in Preston, particularly as it was the first time anyone has ever showed a 360 degree projection of the aurora in a planetarium.”

She added: “It was great that they had such a unique and amazing opportunity. We were working in extremely challenging conditions – sometimes the temperature really plummeted and we had to wear expedition wear even just to step outside - but they all rose to the occasion.”

The expedition teamed up with Off the Map Travel, a specialist soft adventure travel company, to take the eight students specialising in a range of subjects including photography, creative writing, publishing, film production and astrophysics.

The project took over a year to plan and included several pre-trip training sessions on survival in extreme temperatures and the effect that this could have on film and camera equipment.

It also allowed the team to work closely with the local people including the Sami People, the only indigenous population in Europe, to learn how they survive and retain some of their traditions.

The team spent many nights in small, traditional Sami mountain huts; braved an hour’s jaw-dropping ski lift ride to reach the aurora sky station; learned to harness husky dogs and drove a sled and snow shoeing up mountains – all to gather footage and information for the spectacular film and book about the aurora.

Alongside experiencing the Northern Lights projection, attendees saw the documentary produced by the students, viewed exclusive photographs taken during their expedition to the Arctic and listened to astronomer Adam Whittaker talk through the latest scientific reasoning behind the mystical phenomenon.