Northern Lights Visible Over Britain as Earth Aligns With Sun

Northern Lights
Photo by Kressbach

Sarah Knapton, The Daily Telegraph, October 8, 2015

Look up into the night sky over the next few weeks and the Northern Lights may be visible. 

The magnificent Northern Lights will be more visible than usual over Britain in the coming weeks as the Earth moves into a new alignment with the Sun.

Currently the chance of witnessing the aurora borealis is high in areas such as North Wales, Northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Northern Lights are a consequence of activity in the Sun. Occasionally there are large explosions on the Sun, and huge amounts of charged particles are thrown out into space.

These particles sometimes travel towards Earth where they are captured by the magnetic field and pulled towards the polar regions .These charged particles collide with gas molecules in the atmosphere. The energy released in these collisions is given off as light.

The aurora is usually associated with the Arctic Circle and northern countries such as Finland, Sweden and Iceland, but over the best few weeks the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights increases as two space weather phenomena coincide.

The Sun goes through and 11 year solar cycle between a maximum and minimum phase when it is active or dormant. Currently it is in a decline phase following the maximum which occurred in early 2014.

During the current phase of the solar cycle coronal holes that begin the cycle in the Sun’s ‘polar’ regions have now migrated towards the Sun’s equator, meaning they are aligned with Earth, rather than pointing out into the Solar System.

These coronal holes give rise to high speed solar wind streams that buffet the Earth, disturbing its magnetic field and creating the stunning Northern Lights.

The aurora borealis is also more likely in the spring and autumn so there is a better than usual change of seeing the astral light show.

“We are now in a period, lasting a few weeks, where these two factors are working together to increase the chances of geomagnetic disturbances, which in turn bring with them the aurora,” said a Met Office spokesman.

“There is a chance in North England, North Wales and Scotland, it’s difficult to say really. At the moment we will see it if we have clear skies.

“If the wind picks up then we might see it further south. It depends on speed how we see it on Earth and what impact it has.”

For the best chance of viewing the Northern Lights experts say it is best to find a dark place away from street lights on a clear night. Look North between 10pm and 2am for the best results.


This article was written by Sarah Knapton Science Editor from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.