Why a solar flare means you might be able to see the Northern Lights over the UK tonight
The Northern Lights may be visible over the UK tonight, due to a strong solar flare expected to hit Earth.
Officially known as aurora borealis, the phenomenon is sometimes visible in northern Scotland, although the best places to see it tend to be further north in countries like Iceland.
However, a geomagnetic storm means even people in England may be able to catch a glimpse of it on Monday night.
How to see the Northern Lights
Weather presenter Alex Beresford tweeted this morning saying the Northern Lights may be visible.
“There’s a chance to see the aurora tonight, more so in the north. Lots of solar activity and a release of plasma from the sun is set to collide with Earth’s atmosphere amounting in this beautiful light display,” he said.
You don’t need to do anything in particular to see it, you can jut look up to the sky. However, it needs to be a relatively clear night.
The website Aurora Watch UK, which is run by Lancaster University, says the best times to see it are between 9-11pm, and then again at around 2am.
There is no guarantee it will be visible at all, however, especially since much of the country is expected to be cloudy tonight.
The Met Office said: “Aurora is possible through 11th across much of Scotland, although cloud amounts are increasing, meaning sightings are unlikely.
“There is a slight chance of aurora reaching the far north of England and Northern Ireland tonight, but cloud breaks and therefore sightings are more likely in Northern Ireland.”
What are the Northern Lights?
Auroras are patterns of light that appear across the sky.
They are caused by disturbances in the magnetosphere from solar wind.
These disturbances alter the trajectories of charged particles in the magnetospheric plasma.
Ionisation then causes light of varying colour and complexity to be emitted.
A solar flare is a flash of increased brightness on the sun, which is usually seen near its surface and close to a sunspot group (areas of reduced surface temperature which appear as darker spots).
Flares are often accompanied by a coronal mass ejection (CME), which is a significant release of plasma and magnetic field from the solar corona – the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun, as well as other stars, and is most visible during an eclipse.
Solar flares emit radio waves, which can disturb the Earth’s atmosphere if they travel in the direction of our planet. This can cause auroras and disrupt power grids and radio signals.