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18th May 2024

Northern Lights ‘red alert’ warnings issued as phenomenon could be visible again tonight

Ryan Price

northern lights

Great news for those who missed out last weekend.

If you were one of the unfortunate people who didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis last weekend over UK skies, you’ll be happy to hear that there’s a possibility they’ll be visible again tonight.

The Northern Lights dazzled the nation last weekend, with a stunning display of colourful lights being spotted over different parts of the country.

Sightings reached as far as Ireland, with the Irish weather service Met Eireann posting images of the lights in Dublin and at Shannon Airport in Co Clare.

Now, AuroraWatch UK have gotten people excited again, as they issued a ‘red alert’ warning following a magnetic field spike, which suggests aurora could be visible by eye and camera from anywhere in the UK.

AuroraWatch UK is run by scientists in the Space and Planetary Physics group at Lancaster University’s Department of Physics.

A statement on their website explains: “Aurora is likely to be visible by eye from Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland; possibly visible from elsewhere in the UK.

“Photographs of aurora are likely from anywhere in the UK.”

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 AuroraWatch UK’s estimations are correct.

Earlier this week, the Royal Astronomical Society suggested we could get another chance to see the spectacle this month.

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 tonight.

Related Links:

Meteorologist gives update on chances of seeing Northern Lights tonight

What are the Northern Lights and why are they visible in the UK

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