Northern lights stage spectacular display

Skies across Scotland, Europe and North America last night played host to the spectacular celestial display known as the Northern Lights.

Skies across Scotland, Europe and North America last night played host to the spectacular celestial display known as the Northern Lights.

Star-gazers were stunned by the dramatic Aurora Borealis light show, which coincided with a second planetary event which will not be repeated for 20 years.

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and a young crescent moon could all be seen shining within a five degree circle of one another.

Dr Jacqueline Mitton, of the Royal Astronomical Society, said the Aurora Borealis - which translates from the Latin as Northern Dawn - was "by all accounts, an absolutely spectacular sight".

She added: "The Aurora Borealis is a very gentle light which is often greenish or red and it looks like curtains waving in the wind or rays of light."

Last night's amazing display of the "notoriously unpredictable" Northern Lights was due in part to unusually clear skies and tumultuous activity on the surface of the sun, she said.

Chartered engineer Ian Sheffield, of the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, who watched the display from his home in Haddington, East Lothian, said: "It was the most amazing display I have seen in 10 years.

"They started at 8pm and they looked like Jacob's Ladders coming down to the horizon.

"They were pale green with streaks of red which is quite unusual. It was ghostly."

He said last night's display had arrived a day earlier than expected and sky-watchers could possibly see the Northern Lights again tonight - although they were likely to fade this afternoon.

They are frequently seen in the North and South Pole and are not unusual in Scotland.

But there were also warnings that the display had the potential to be one of the largest geomagnetic storms of this solar cycle and could cause problems for satellite operators and power supplies.

Astronomers were also glued to the skies last night to chart other unusual planetary activity.

They watched the moon emerge, followed by Jupiter, the brightest of the planets, Saturn, which is one-eighth as bright as Jupiter, and the ruddy-coloured Mars.

As the month progresses, Jupiter and Saturn will roll deeper into the sun's twilight, while Mars appears to linger.

On April 11, the three planets will form an equilateral triangle, followed by Mars passing two degrees north of Saturn on April 16.

The next time the planets will be in such close proximity to one another will be on March 26, 2020.

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