How to see the northern lights tonight
The aurora borealis, or the northern lights as they are commonly known, have been visible across the northern parts of the UK over the last few days. Apparently caused by the largest solar storm the Earth has seen in the past six years, this rare phenomenon is spreading further south than usual. And the good news is, providing we are lucky enough to get clear skies, you may still have a chance to see them tonight…
Why is this happening now?
The phenomenon is caused, partly, by a solar (geomagnetic) storm, which results in a rapid release of magnetic energy stored in the Sun’s atmosphere. The charged gas particles, caused by eruptions on the Sun, interact with the Earth’s magnetic field and are propelled towards the Earths’ poles. When the particles reach the super atmosphere the energy is given off as light – northern lights. The storm increases the likelihood of witnessing the northern lights phenomenon further south than is usually possible.
Where can I see them this week?
Since Sunday 22 Jan, people across the UK have been seeing great arcs of green light across the sky. The most prominent places to see the lights are in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the northern counties of England. If the weather conditions are right it’s possible that you might see them further south – even in London if you’re lucky. There have been some particularly spectacular sightings in..
- Holy Island, Northumberland
- Lerwick, Shetland
- Tan Hill, Yorkshire
- Seaham Harbour, Co Durham
- Whitley Bay, Tyneside
Will it be possible to see them tonight?
Low cloud and mist this evening means the chance of seeing the northern lights, tonight, in the UK is low. However, tomorrow (Thursday 26 Jan), as colder drier air comes in, the sky will become more visible which means the likelihood of seeing the lights will increase.
If the solar activity intensifies, the lights may move even further south, and if the conditions are just right – if the cloud cover doesn’t prevent you viewing the sky – then it may be possible to see the lights in the south of the UK.
Tips for observing
To maximise your chances of seeing the aurora borealis follow these simple tips:
- Try and go to an open rural area – you need a clear view of the sky, unobstructed by buildings, and where there is less light pollution from houses or industry
- Check the weather forecast for clear conditions
- Check the solar forecast for Northern Lights activity
- You’re most likely to see the northern lights between 10pm to 2am. However, if this is past your bedtime, then there is still a chance that you might catch a glimpse earlier in the evening or if it’s still dark when you wake up in the morning.
Make sure you wear warm clothes, especially if you are standing still for a long time.
…and if you’ve missed the show this time?
Solar storms, also known as coronal mass ejections, are more common when the Sun is in its 11 year ‘sunspot cycle’. The next storm is forecast for 2013, so we can expect to see more northern lights activity in the not too distant future.
Send in your photos
Have you been lucky enough to witness the northern lights over the past couple of days? If so, and you had your camera at the ready - we would love to share your pictures on our website. Upload them to our gallery – the best photos will be published in the Countryfile newsletter.