Rare nacreous cloud formations spark false Northern Lights reports across the UK

The rare clouds formed unusually colourful formations in the skies over the UK

Doug Bolton
Tuesday 02 February 2016 18:17
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Nathan Wilson managed to capture the rare phenomenon on camera from Norwich airport's air traffic control tower
Nathan Wilson managed to capture the rare phenomenon on camera from Norwich airport's air traffic control tower

Unusually colourful cloud formations across the UK have sparked false reports of the aurora borealis.

Many were surprised to see the bright lights in the sky on the evening of 1 February, with some mistaking them for the rare Northern Lights, which are typically not seen over Britain.

However, AuroraWatch UK, Lancaster University's aurora monitoring service, said the conditions were not right for the Northern Lights to appear over the country on Monday night.

Instead, they believe the unusual lights were down to high-altitude clouds known as nacreous clouds.

The rare sightings occur when sunlight from below the horizon is reflected and refracted by these clouds, which usually form in the stratosphere, around 15,000 to 25,000 feet from the Earth's surface.

Photographer Dawn Douglas snapped a picture of the unusual clouds over Fleetwood in Lancashire (Pic: Dawn Douglas)

Clouds typically do not form at such high altitudes, but during the winter, when temperatures drop, enough moisture can be present for the unusual formations to develop.

The phenomenon usually occurs at twilight or just before dawn, and can produce colourful, shimmering lights, which look very similar to the aurora borealis.

Rick Harwood spotted the clouds over Leyland, Lancashire (Pic: Rick Harwood)

A number of photographers across the country managed to snap pictures of the rare clouds. Photographer Dawn Douglas, from Lee Douglas Photography, told The Independent: "I just had to grab a snap, it was so beautiful."

Alison Bailey captured the phenomenon on camera (Pic: Alison Bailey)

Alison Bailey also managed to take pictures of the phenomenon as night fell.

As AuroraWatch UK commented, the clouds are a "very pretty sight," but they're not auroras.

However, the group said there would be "minor geomagnetic activity" over some parts of the UK on the evening of 2 February, so if you're lucky enough to be in the far north of Scotland, you could catch a glimpse of the famous lights.

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