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17th May 2024

Northern Lights could be visible in the UK again very soon

Ryan Price

northern lights

We may be getting a repeat of the surprise spectacle.

While many were on the ball last Friday night and managed to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights above the UK for the first time in over twenty years, others woke up Sunday morning to Instagram stories showing the magical spectacle they had missed.

Well, the good news is, the Royal Astronomical Society reckons we’re going to get another chance to see the dazzling display very soon.

The extreme geomagnetic storm made the natural light show visible much further south than usual last weekend, and it seems the same could occur again this year all thanks to a huge new solar storm that’s been recorded on the surface of the Sun.

The Sun is expected to reach the most active period in its 11-year solar cycle in 2024, making solar storms – and therefore the chance to see the Northern Lights – much more likely.

According to the RAS, the solar maximum is when the Sun has more sunspots than usual because its magnetic field is becoming stronger and at its most complex, which leads to the release of massive amounts of energy in the form of solar flares and, crucially for aurora, Coronal Mass Ejections.

In layman’s terms, there is a higher chance than usual that the lights could again be visible to much of the UK – perhaps even as early as next month.

Bearing that in mind, it’s very hard to pinpoint when and even if the spectacular event will occur, and even astronomers can only speculate.

Royal Astronomical Society’s president Professor Mike Lockwood explains the process behind determining whether or not a geomagnetic storm will occur.

“The Sun is near sunspot maximum so it [seeing the Northern Lights further south] is much more likely than at other phases of the solar cycle – but it’s not a given for sure,” he said.

“The present storm was caused by about five coronal mass ejections launched from an exceptionally large sunspot group.

“After this disturbance has died down there is a chance that the same ‘active region’ will still be emitting CMEs in 27 days when that region comes round to face the Earth again. But active regions tend to disperse so that is not highly likely,” he added.

Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of Warwick, Ravindra Desai, went so far as to pinpoint a rough date whereby we could be treated to the vibrant visuals again here in the UK.

Speaking to Metro, he said: “It important to note that active region 3664 may persist for two weeks or longer and therefore will once again be oriented towards the Earth.

“So in two weeks there is an elevated chance of further major geomagnetic storms and aurora over the UK.”

In other words, the Northern Lights returning to the UK around the end of May.

The Northern Lights are usually visible from Arctic regions (SWNS)

The Northern Lights is a natural phenomenon caused by charged particles energised by energy extracted from the solar wind hitting gases in the Earth’s upper atmosphere (above about 100 km up).

These gases are then energised, causing them to emit characteristic colours.

The two most abundant gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are nitrogen and oxygen.

Oxygen atoms glow green and red, but because the eye is more sensitive to green, this is the easiest colour to see in fainter displays. Nitrogen atoms, meanwhile, emit purple, blue and pink.

The aurora can commonly be seen near the poles of both the northern and southern hemispheres. In the north the display is known as the aurora borealis, and in the south it is called the aurora australis.

Usually, you’d have to travel to Iceland to catch a glimpse, but the UK could be treated to it’s second display in as little as a month if Professor Desai’s estimations are correct.

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