Abstract We present observations of a transient event in the dayside auroral ionosphere at magnetic noon. F-region plasma convection measurements were made by the EISCAT radar, operating in the beamswinging “Polar” experiment mode, and simultaneous observations of the dayside auroral emissions were made by optical meridian-scanning photometers and all-sky TV cameras at Ny Ålesund, Spitzbergen. The data were recorded on 9 January 1989, and a sequence of bursts of flow, with associated transient aurora, were observed between 08:45 and 11:00 U.T. In this paper we concentrate on an event around 09:05 U.T. because that is very close to local magnetic noon. The optical data show a transient intensification and widening (in latitude) of the cusp/cleft region, as seen in red line auroral emissions. Over an interval of about 10 min, the band of 630 nm aurora widened from about 1.5° of invariant latitude to over 5° and returned to its original width. Embedded within the widening band of 630 nm emissions were two intense, active 557.7 nm arc fragments with rays which persisted for about 2 min each. The flow data before and after the optical transient show eastward flows, with speeds increasing markedly with latitude across the band of 630 nm aurora. Strong, apparently westward, flows appeared inside the band while it was widening, but these rotated round to eastward, through northward, as the band shrunk to its original width. The observed ion temperatures verify that the flow speeds during the transient were, to a large extent, as derived using the beamswinging technique; but they also show that the flow increase initially occurred in the western azimuth only. This spatial gradient in the flow introduces ambiguity in the direction of these initial flows and they could have been north-eastward rather than westward. However, the westward direction derived by the beamswinging is consistent with the motion of the colocated and coincident active 557.7 nm arc fragment, A more stable transient 557.7 nm aurora was found close to the shear between the inferred westward flows and the persisting eastward flows to the North. Throughout the transient, northward flow was observed across the equatorward boundary of the 630 nm aurora. Interpretation of the data is made difficult by lack of IMF data, problems in distinguishing the cusp and cleft aurora and uncertainty over which field lines are open and which are closed. However, at magnetic noon there is a 50% probability that we were observing the cusp, in which case from its southerly location we infer that the IMF was southward and many features are suggestive of time-varying reconnection at a single X-line on the dayside magnetopause. This IMF orientation is also consistent with the polar rain precipitation observed simultaneously by the DMSP-F9 satellite in the southern polar cap. There is also a 25% chance that we were observing the cleft (or the mantle poleward of the cleft). In this case we infer that the IMF was northward and the transient is well explained by reconnection which is not only transient in time but occurs at various sites located randomly on the dayside magnetopause (i.e. patchy in space). Lastly, there is a 25% chance that we were observing the cusp poleward of the cleft, in which case we infer that IMF B z was near zero and the transient is explained by a mixture of the previous two interpretations.