This week the UK has had a front row seat to the stunning show of Aurora Borealis. Places as far south as Cornwall and Dorset were able to catch a glimpse of the sky as it lit up in green and pink. Social media is filled with stunning pictures of the Northern Lights across the UK.
BBC Weather Watchers said this recent display was “best in a very long time”. According to the Met Office, the "lights occur as a consequence of solar activity and result from collisions of charged particles in the solar wind colliding with molecules in the Earth’s upper atmosphere".
While many may have missed out on the chance to catch the Northern Lights this time around, experts say we are entering a period in which we can expect to have more opportunity to see them from the UK. This year we are closer to the solar maximum of cycle number 25, which means there will be a significant increase in solar activity compared to other years, with bigger displays on certain days. The Northern Lights depend on solar activity that follows an 11 year-cycle. During the 11-year cycle the sun has less activity at the beginning and end of the cycle which is known as the solar minimum.
There is also a solar maximum, which happens in the middle of the cycle and during which there is more significant activity, which increases the possibility of seeing more frequent geomagnetic storms and strong Northern Lights at lower latitudes.
Astronomers say that increased activity this far in advance of the solar maximum bodes well for future displays of the Northern Lights in Britain. Dr Robert Massey, deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society, told The Independent: “The displays we have seen show that the sun is getting more active, and more than expected.
“There had been predictions that this cycle could be really weak but we’re two years away from the predicted maximum and there is more activity than was forecast, so the prospect looks good that more people will get to see displays of the Northern Lights.”
How to spot the Northern Lights
Seeing the Aurora Borealis is usually something people travel to the most northern parts of the world to see, like Iceland and Norway. However, it’s not uncommon to see them in the UK, they are often spotted in Scotland, and some parts of Northern England. But it is rare that people in southern England get such a vibrant show.
In order to have the best chance of seeing the light show, experts always recommend that stargazers should consult their weather forecast and set up camp somewhere far away from the light pollution of towns and cities. You need clear conditions, and to find a really dark part of your area to get a good look at them. So safety protocol, like not going alone, bringing a torch, and wrapping up warm is very much advised.