Northern lights: Pictures show spectacular aurora borealis display visible as far south as Devon

Stargazers in Bedfordshire, Norfolk, Northumberland, Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Scotland all spotted stunning astral phenomenon

Joe Sommerlad
Monday 08 November 2021 10:01
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<p>A spectacular display of the Northern Lights seen over Derwentwater near Keswick in the Lake District in early hhours of 4 November 2021</p>

A spectacular display of the Northern Lights seen over Derwentwater near Keswick in the Lake District in early hhours of 4 November 2021

British stargazers braved the autumn chill on Wednesday evening to take in the spectacular green flare of the northern lights over the night sky.

A common sight over the Arctic, northern Canada, Scandinavia and Russia, the aurora borealis is rarely seen over the UK but was this time spotted as far south as Devon, with the Met Office attributing the phenomenon to a “coronal mass ejection” from the sun.

These explosions of hot plasma on the surface of the star expel billion-tonne clouds of electrically-charged solar particles, which travel millions of miles through space at speeds of 2 million miles per hour and can collide with the Earth’s magnetosphere, subsequently accelerating down towards our globe’s north and south poles.

“These particles then slam into atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere and essentially heat them up,” explains astronomer Tom Kerss.

“We call this physical process ‘excitation’, but it’s very much like heating a gas and making it glow.”

What results is a spectacular geomagnetic storm, the aurora’s distinctive waves and “curtains” of light caused by the lines of force within the Earth’s magnetic field, its lowest point typically above 80 miles from the ground and its upper reach towering thousands of miles into space.

The heating that takes place with the collision causes the primary gases in our atmosphere, oxygen and nitrogen, to react by giving off the eerie greens, blues, pinks and yellows we observe.

“We sometimes see a wonderful scarlet red colour, and this is caused by very high altitude oxygen interacting with solar particles,” adds Mr Kerss.

“This only occurs when the aurora is particularly energetic.”

But these light flares playing out across our northern skies are usually only visible at higher latitudes, close to the poles.

A particularly strong reaction might be visible further south, dependent on cloud cover and light pollution levels in the air.

The phenomenon last occurred over the weekend and made for fine photographs in Scotland and parts of northern England.

This time, Twitter users posted some stunning shots from locations as southerly as Norfolk, Bedfordshire and Devon.

The following shots were taken from high ground in Cumbria, Northumberland and North Yorkshire.

But, in truth, Scotland again had the best of it.

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