The Northern lights in the UK

By Sze Wing Ng

When the Northern Lights appeared in the UK on May 11th, it came as a surprise to much of the country. They continued to light up the skies across Europe throughout the month of May, reaching as far as Italy and Croatia.  

Many people may question why we can see the Northern lights in the UK when most people expect that rare occurrence to happen in Iceland or Canada. According to the Met Office, the Northern Lights occurred in the UK “as a consequence of solar activity and result from collisions of charged particles in the solar wind colliding with molecules in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.” The UK’s night sky was splashed with bright pinks, purples and greens as a result. 

The last time the UK experienced an extreme geomagnetic storm was in 2003. According to the BBC, this is happening because we are approaching the ‘solar maximum’, where there are naturally more sunspots on the sun’s surface that emit material that creates green, pink and purple light. Furthermore, the fact that most people own a smartphone has contributed to the increase in the number of sightings of the Northern Lights over the last decade as they provide a better forecast on these events 

To capture these Aurora lights with a simple smartphone, the BBC offers some techniques with Anne Wilkie’s advice who captured it in Scotland: 

  • Firstly, you will need to go to your camera app and turn your flashlight off 
  • Then switch your camera to night mode and adjust the slider to 3-5 seconds 
  • Use a tripod to keep your phone still  

Ms. Wilkie described how she “found that the camera is very sensitive and picks up the colours so much more than the naked eye.” 

National trust has given us some useful information about the best places to go to see the Northern Lights. Such locations include: 

  • Bannau Brycheiniog, South Wales 
  • Derwentwater, Cumbria 
  • Stackpole, Pembrokeshire 
  • Carneddau, Eryri (Snowdonia) 
  • Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland 
  • Mam Tor, Peak District 

These places have large areas designated for stargazing, but in today’s case, they are the best places to see the Northern lights! If you are willing to try to go to these areas, the result will not disappoint, even if you cannot catch the Northern lights. Use the techniques above to capture the best photos! 

Posted in Featured, News.