Gorgeous Northern Lights displays have been filling the skies over Scotland and parts of Northern England. What is behind the astronomical phenomenon? And will we see the lights again tonight?

Gorgeous Northern Lights displays have been filling the skies over Scotland and parts of Northern England. What is behind the meteorological phenomenon? And will we see them again tonight? (Getty)

Just as the opportunity arises to see one of the planet's most spectacular natural displays, the weather decides to misbehave and spoil the fun, writes Channel 4 News Weather Presenter Liam Dutton.

On Wednesday night the UK will be bathed in a moisture-laden south westerly airflow, which will blanket us in mist, murk and low cloud. This means that the chance of seeing the sky and the northern lights is low.

However, prospects will be better for western parts of the UK during Thursday night as colder, drier air breaks up the cloud and makes the skies above more visible.

Aurura borealis

Solar storms happen when a tongue of radiation and super-hot plasma erupts out of the sun, writes Channel 4 News Science Editor Tom Clarke. The events, called coronal mass ejections, are impossible to predict – but are more common when the sun is in its 11-year "solar maximum" which is due in early 2013.

The eruption on Sunday sent a cloud of charged particles called a plasma towards earth. Even though the plasma is travelling at 4.5 million miles per hour, the bulk of it is expected to arrive today.

Because the plasma carries an electrical charge it becomes tangled up in our earth's magnetic field far out in the depths of space. The plasma is then accelerated towards the North and South Poles by the magnetic field lines.

When it hits the super atmosphere it gives off its energy as light - the green or sometimes pink glow of the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) or their southern equivalent, the aurora australis.

The Northern Lights were reported as far south as Yorkshire last night. If the volume of plasma does increase tonight, they be seen as far south as London, experts suggest. But viewing conditions will have to be perfect.

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