Have you seen the Northern Lights tonight?

09Jan14

The following is from the Telegraph

Northern Lights sightings possible over Britain
Britons living as far south as the Cotswolds may have the best chance in years of
seeing the Northern Lights this evening as the impact of a vast solar storm begins to
be felt on Earth
Northern Lights viewings will be spectacular this winter Photo: AP
By Adrian Bridge
11:53AM GMT 09 Jan 2014

According to scientists monitoring solar activity, a mass ejection of particles from the sun
two days ago means that the light displays tonight could be of unusual intensity – and that
they should be visible from much further south than normal.

Scientists from the Space Weather Prediction Centre in Boulder, Colorado, have predicted
that the solar storm that is heading this way could mean that displays of the lights measured
on what is called the KP Index could rise from a reading of one (visible in northern
Scandinavia) to a reading of seven (visible in southern Wales and parts of southern England).
“This is not an exact science but the likelihood is that tonight could provide people in
southern parts of Britain a rare opportunity,” said Mark Haywood on behalf of Off the Map
Travel, a soft adventure travel company that specialises in the Northern Lights. “I for one
will be heading up to the clear skies of the Lake District and hoping for the best.”

The impact of the solar storm was expected to be felt by early evening with readings of the
KP Index reaching 7 by midnight. Experts suggested that between midnight and 3am would
be the optimum time for views of the lights – also known as the aurora borealis.
Specialists working on AuroraWatch UK – a research programme operated at Lancaster
University – confirmed that the solar storm was heading this way, but urged people not to be
overly confident of viewings.

“We do not want to get too many people’s hopes up only to see them dashed, but are
observing closely and the conditions do look promising,” said Steve Marple, a member of the
AuroraWatch UK research team. “We expect the solar storm to have arrived by the evening –
and then just hope that the orientation of the magnetic field will be in the right direction.”
Another key factor in lights viewings is the weather. Earlier forecasts today suggested that
most of Britain would be clear this evening and into the night.

Marple advised all those wanting to try their luck at a viewing to follow the following
guidelines:
* keep away from urban light pollution
* find spots with good views of the horizon in the north
* try to get onto higher ground

AuroraWatch UK offers a lights alerts service via email, Twitter and Facebook (see
aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk/alerts). On its site it also provides a detailed map of some of the best
places in Britain from which to photograph the lights (aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk/photo_sites).
Most of the sites listed are unsurprisingly in Scotland and northern England. What could be
different tonight is that the borealis could be seen from as far south as Birmingham.

Should the sight of the lights whet the appetitite, most companies specialising in trips to
northern Scandinavia, from which the lights are more commonly sighted, have laid on extra
itineraries to cater for demand from people wanting to take advantage of the current “solar
maximum” – a high in the 11-year cycle that governs auroral activity.

According to Jonny Cooper, managing director of Off the Map Travel: “The solar maximum
has already thrown up some incredible northern lights displays in destinations such as
Bjorkliden in Northern Sweden, one of the best places in the world to see the lights.”

What are the Northern Lights?

Displays of the Northern Lights occur when solar particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere and
on impact emit burning gases that produce different coloured lights (oxygen produces green
and yellow; nitrogen blue). The scientific term for the lights is the aurora borealis (named
after the Roman goddess of the dawn). A similar spectacle in the southern hemisphere is
known as the aurora australis.

Where can you see them?

The aurora borealis occurs in an oval doughnut-shaped area located above the magnetic pole.
The best sightings are within the “doughnut” (rather than at the pole itself), and away from
artificial light and moonlight.

The oval rotates with the sun, and it may grow and shrink in size considerably in only a
matter of hours. The most spectacular displays occur in the northern parts of the following
areas: the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland (including all of Greenland and
Svalbard), Alaska, Canada and Russia.

Closer to home, fainter displays of the lights can regularly be seen from Scotland. During
periods of “solar maximum”, as now, they have been viewed from southern England.

When to go

Displays of the lights are notoriously unpredictable and cannot be forecast in advance. In the
northern hemisphere, the aurora season runs from late September or early October to late
March. The lights may be seen at any time during this period, but late October, November,
February and March are the best bets.

Displays are governed by an 11-year cycle and are at their most dramatic during times of
high solar activity, such as now, but sightings can be recorded at any time. It is impossible to
guarantee a viewing even during a period of “solar maximum”; if the sky is cloudy, the lights
will be concealed.

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2014
Northern Lights sightings possible over Britain – Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/10560789/Nort…
4 of 4 09/01/2014 20:13

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