4 Jan 2017

Northern lights show possible for UK in coming days

With the long, cold, dark nights of winter still firmly with us, the prospect of anything to bring a little excitement is cherished.

Bursts of Arctic air from the north bring us the clearest of skies, thanks to the crisp freshness of the air. It’s effectively nature’s way of giving us the chance to look at the stars in HD.

However, for the next two nights (4-5 January), there’s also a chance that the aurora borealis, aka northern lights, may be visible across the north of the UK – especially Scotland.

Northern lights over Scottish beach

Minor to moderate geomagnetic storm taking place

In the next few days, geomagnetic activity is expected to increase, due to a geomagnetic storm taking place.

This will increase the solar wind speed – sending huge numbers of charged particles from the sun towards earth at around 1 million miles per hour.

As these charged particles encounter earth’s magnetic field, they are guided towards the north and south poles.

When these charged particles collide with gas molecules in earth’s atmosphere, energy is released in the form of light – causing the aurora borealis to happen.

Where is the best chance of see the northern lights?

Each geomagnetic storm has an associated Kp number, which indicates how far south the northern lights may be visible. The higher the Kp number, the further south the northern lights may be seen.

Geomagnetic storm Kp number map
Geomagnetic storm Kp number map: NOAA

The current geomagnetic storm has a Kp rating of five to six, which suggests that the northern lights could be visible over central and northern Scotland during the coming few nights.

There’s also an outside chance, if activity is a little greater, that the northern lights may be spotted as far south as northern England and Northern Ireland.

How can I see the northern lights?

The clearest night of the next few will be Wednesday night, although it will be very cold with a widespread frost.

They are best viewed with clear skies, away from light pollution and looking towards the northern horizon.

If you manage to spot them and take any pictures, I’d love to see them. The easiest way to send them to me is on Twitter – @liamdutton

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