There is a chance – just a chance, no promises, ok? Read that back again, NO PROMISES!!!! – that northern parts of the UK might be able to see the aurora borealis this coming weekend. In fact, it will be worth keeping an eye on the northern sky after dark for the next three nights. Just in case.
Well, there have been two big events on the Sun, which have sent enormous amounts of solar material in Earth’s direction, and it is going to slam into our planet’s magnetic field. This won’t hurt us, don’t worry, but it means that it should trigger an increase in auroral activity, perhaps enough of an increase to make the northern lights visible from further south than usual – perhaps even as far south as areas of the UK such as Cumbria, Yorkshire, and who knows, maybe even farther south than that.
Now before you get too excited, it is important to not get too carried away! Firstly, there’s no guarantee we’ll see anything: the material might not hit us after all (the Sun can be very sneaky) in which case no-one will see anything, anywhere. Or the impacts could occur early, or late, during during daylight hours in the UK, in which case we’d see nothing but enhanced auroral activity would be visible where it WAS dark, which would be extremely frustrating to say the least. But this happens a lot! Or activity might not come far enough south for us to see anything… Or… or…
So, there is a lot of uncertainty about this, ok? Which is why I’m being VERY careful here not to say WE WILL SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS!!!! But I AM saying “Keep your eyes on the sky, because we MIGHT see something”. Because if you don’t look you are absolutely, 1000% guaranteed to see nothing! 🙂
Ok. Disclaimer out of the way. Let’s be optimistic. Let’s assume we’re going to see something. What might we see?
Well, if the solar material hits with enough of a blow to increase auroral activity moderately, any aurora we see from this part of the world (and by that I mean across Cumbria’s latitude, the north of England) would look nothing like the northern lights which reduced Joanna Lumley to tears on her wonderful TV show! No, what we would see would be just a green glow in the northern sky, maybe like a low, fuzzy green rainbow. Which would be pretty cool! We don’t get to see that too often! Obviously we’re hoping for more than that, but that might be all we get.
Or… maybe there will be more activity than that, in which case you can add to that green glow some red-hued rays and beams, pointing up from the green glow, and a bit of movement too, maybe a gentle, soft swaying effect within the green glow, and/or those red rays and beams moving a little too, growing and shrinking in height over time and moving sideways too. That would be pretty special.
Or… maybe there will be a real kick of auroral activity, in which case we might see something rather more dramatic. Looking north you might see the sky above the northern horizon glowing a vivid, lime green, with numerous vivid red beams coming out of the top of the glow, coming and going, brightening and fading, and curtains of light too, with a lot more movement up and down and side to side, more of a rippling effect. Such a display would be very impressive, and would be a sight to behold! But it’s NOT guaranteed, so cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Or… maybe we will REALLY get a show, and the whole of the northern sky will just go nuts! But that’s very unlikely, so don’t get your hopes up, ok!!
So, that’s what we might see: nothing… something… something good, or something amazing. We’ll have to wait and see!
Whatever happens, you can increase your chances of seeing any auroral activity by following a few simple steps.
* GET OUT OF TOWN! Find somewhere dark, with a big, wide open sky, and a clear view to the north, without trees, buildings or hills in the way. That way if anything does kick off you’ll be well placed to see it. If a big sky isn’t possible, just get somewhere that’s as dark as possible, away from light pollution.
* BE PATIENT! There’s no schedule to this, we might see something tonight, or it might not be until tomorrow or even Friday night. Or maybe all three! So be prepared for frustration. Be patient.
* WRAP UP WARM! You could be out all night hoping to see or watching this, so dress sensibly. And take a flask of something hot!
Equipment? Well, you don’t need binoculars or a telescope to watch the northern lights. Your eyes are all you need. If a big display kicks off, it will be obvious to the naked eye if you are somewhere dark with a good sky,
Which direction? This might sound obvious… “northern lights”, so north! … but if a really, really big display kicks off, if you live in the far north of the UK the activity might actually pass over you, so you’d see it in the south! But really, yes, look north after dark, and look out for green and red glows.
When? Ah, the £64,000,000 question! We don’t know, we truly don’t. All we can say is that it’s worth looking north after dark tonight, tomorrow night and Saturday night too. We might see something on any or even all of those nights, or we might see nothing at all. Just GO AND LOOK!!!
If you’re on Twitter, or Facebook, there are very active communities of aurora watchers there, so do a quick search for them and then you’ll be able to follow what’s happening in real time, following conversations between aurora watchers, getting alerts, etc. If you’re on Twitter you can follow me (mars_stu) and I’ll keep you informed of what’s visible from where I am. Also, you can download aurora alert apps for your smartphone which will keep you updated. And the website spaceweather.com will be keeping people informed too.
But the bottom line, the absolute bottom line, is this: there’s a chance parts of the UK might see the northern lights over the next three nights, we just don’t know, so keep an eye on the northern sky after dark, just in case.
Good luck everyone! Oh, and if something does happen, and you see it, let me know, and take pics! Just set your camera to auto and snap away, you might get something. If you have a digital SLR, put it on a tripod, set it to 400ISO, and take exposures of several seconds with the widest lens you have. You should get something with that.
Ok, cross your fingers everyone! And let me know what you see… 🙂
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