The Northern Lights Came to Britain Last Month, Anyone Catch Them?
The Northern Lights. You’d expect that you’d have to travel north to catch them, obviously! But I mean really north. Iceland, Norway, the likes. Not the case. On the 6th of March we weren’t experiencing an X-Files kind of alien invasion but the northern lights. And they looked mega!
About a month ago, the aurora borealis – or northern lights as it is to me and thee – was on display in the UK. Here they are lingering over Kielder Water, in Northumberland.
It might seem like a big deal seeing the lights over the UK, but it’s not that uncommon – according to the British Geological Survey, people in the north of Scotland, such as here in Aberdeenshire, can expect to see the aurora every few months.
But it is much rarer for it to make it as far south as England, as it did last night.
The aurora is caused by high-energy particles from the sun colliding with molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere. As they collide, the molecule gives off light, just like a neon sign. The colour of the light depends on the molecule being hit and how high it is. Oxygen gives off yellow-green and red light, while nitrogen usually glows purple.
The auroras usually form in circles around the North and South Poles, because the particles coming from the sun have an electrical charge and are steered towards the poles by the Earth’s magnetic field. This picture shows the sky over Lossiemouth, Moray, in Scotland.
Like the Earth, the sun has weather. And when the sun has a really big storm, it releases vast numbers of these charged particles. When the lights make it this far south – these pictures show Great Park in Newcastle – it’s because there’s been a major solar storm.
The aurora shines over St Mary’s Lighthouse, near Whitley Bay in Northumberland.
The aurora over Covesea Lighthouse, near Lossiemouth, Moray.
Covesea Lighthouse near Lossiemouth, Moray. The aurora looks amazing from the ground – but if anything it’s even more amazing when you see it from the International Space Station.
Auroras have been seen as far south as the Tropics. In 1859, a gargantuan solar flarecaused the lights to dance in the sky over Jamaica and Cuba. The sheer power of the storm overwhelmed the then-brand-new telegraph system, starting small fires in telegraph offices around the world. A similar-sized storm today might seriously damage the global communications network.
The aurora over the ruins of Duffus Castle near Duffus, Moray.