Northern Lights: How and where to see the aurora borealis in the UK tonight

Spectacular green glare visibile as far south as Devon on Wednesday evening

Joe Sommerlad
Thursday 04 November 2021 22:58 GMT
Stunning time lapse shows Northern Lights visible in Scotland

Amateur astronomers across the UK were treated to a spectacular display courtesy of the aurora borealis on Wednesday night, with some excitedly posting pictures of the astonishing green glow from as far south as Devon.

More common to the Arctic, northern Canada, Scandinavia and Russia than Britain, the phenomenon is the result of solar particles colliding and reacting with the Earth’s atmosphere to create a geomagnetic storm.

The more powerful the storm, the lower the latitudes its flaring effect can be seen - and the greater the chance of its being repeated.

Commenting on last night’s skies and the prospect of another opportunity presenting itself on Thursday, Met Office expert Krista Hammond said: “We’ve had reports that the aurora could even be seen in some central areas of the UK, which is possible when a storm of this magnitude impacts the Earth.

“Further geomagnetic storms are possible tonight and into the early hours tomorrow morning, due to the ongoing effects of the coronal mass ejection.

“This means there is the potential for further sightings of the Northern Lights overnight, although there will be spells of patchy cloud over Scotland, which could limit visibility in places.”

The mass ejection event referred to be the meteorologist is what caused this week’s aurora.

The term refers to explosions of hot plasma on the surface of the sun, which expel billion-tonne clouds of electrically-charged particles that 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.

The storm resulting from this clash sees distinctive waves and “curtains” of light created that follow the lines of force within the Earth’s magnetic field and eerie shades of dancing greens, blues, pinks and yellows to become visible, these caused by the primary gases in our air - oxygen and nitrogen - becoming heated and giving off the colours in reaction.

The lowest point of the aurora is typically about 80 miles above the ground but its upper reach towers thousands of miles upwards into space.

Locations where people were able to get the best view of the aurora on Wednesday included remote parts of Scotland, Northern England, Northern Wales and Norfolk, with low cloud cover and limited light pollution in the air necessary to give a clear, unobstructed perspective.

Those same regions represent your best chance of catching the show on Thursday once dark falls, with the Northern Lights statistically most likely to appear after 10pm and before midnight, according to AuroraWatchUK.

However, you may have to stay up into the small hours of the morning and should be ready to face the brisk autumn cold.

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