Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)
The Aurora Borealis, often referred to as the Northern Lights, is a natural light display that occurs in the polar regions of the Earth. It is a stunning and mesmerising phenomenon characterised by colourful, dancing curtains or ribbons of light in the night sky. Although a rarer phenomenon the Northern Lights can be seen from Scotland. They are hard to forecast with alerts going out at short notice but if you are staying with us through Autumn, Winter or early Spring it may be something you are lucky enough to experience.
Here are some key features and explanations of the Aurora Borealis:
- Origin of Name: The term “Aurora Borealis” is derived from two words: “Aurora,” the Roman goddess of dawn, and “Boreas,” the Greek name for the north wind. The name essentially means “Northern Dawn” or “Northern Lights.”
- Cause: The Northern Lights are the result of charged particles from the Sun, mainly electrons and protons, colliding with the Earth’s upper atmosphere. These charged particles are carried to Earth by the solar wind, a stream of charged particles continuously emanating from the Sun.
- Interaction with Earth’s Atmosphere: When these charged particles from the solar wind collide with gas molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere, primarily oxygen and nitrogen, they transfer energy to the gas molecules. This energy transfer causes the gas molecules to become “excited.”
- Emission of Light: As the excited gas molecules return to their normal, unexcited state, they release the excess energy in the form of visible light. This emission of light is what creates the colourful display of the Aurora Borealis.
- Colours: The specific colours of the Northern Lights depend on the type of gas molecules being excited and the altitude at which the collisions occur. Oxygen molecules at higher altitudes (around 60 to 200 miles above the Earth’s surface) typically produce green and red colours, while nitrogen molecules at lower altitudes produce purples, pinks, and blues.
- Geographic Location: The Aurora Borealis is most commonly visible in the high-latitude regions near the North Pole, including countries like Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Canada, and Alaska. However, during periods of high solar activity (solar storms), it can occasionally be seen at lower latitudes including Scotland.
- Seasonal Variations: The Northern Lights are more visible during the winter months when the nights are longer and darker in polar regions. They tend to be less visible during the summer months when the skies remain relatively bright during the night.
- Solar Cycle: The frequency and intensity of the Northern Lights are influenced by the solar cycle, which has an approximately 11-year cycle of solar activity. When solar activity is at its peak, the chances of witnessing a vibrant Aurora Borealis increase.
The Aurora Borealis is not only a natural wonder but also a cultural and spiritual symbol in many indigenous cultures of the northern polar regions. People from around the world travel to these regions to witness the Northern Lights and experience their breathtaking beauty.
We recommend checking Aurora Watch UK website for information about the Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights are best seen when you are facing North ideally on elevated ground.
||No significant activity
||Aurora is unlikely to be visible by eye or camera from anywhere in the UK.
||Minor geomagnetic activity
||Aurora may be visible by eye from Scotland and may be visible by camera from Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland.
||Amber alert: possible aurora
||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.
||Red alert: aurora likely
||It is likely that aurora will be visible by eye and camera from anywhere in the UK.