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The Northern Lights could be seen again in the UK within a few weeks | Science and Technology News

The Northern Lights could be seen again in the UK within a few weeks |  Science and Technology News

 


The Northern Lights could light up our skies again as early as next month.

British skies turned pink and green last weekend as the Northern Lights presented a stunning sight to sky watchers.

The sightings come after the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a severe solar storm warning for the first time since 2005 as a series of solar flares combined to form a massive burst of solar plasma.

“We had a very large sunspot on the Earth-facing side of the Sun, about 15 times the size of Earth,” said Krista Hammond, a space weather expert at the Met Office.

“It was emitting a lot of solar flares and coronal mass ejections, spewing out huge amounts of charged particles.”

Several explosions followed one another, meaning that the geomagnetic storm that occurred when they reached Earth was much stronger than what any individual explosion would have caused alone.

Image: Aurora over High Wycombe.

“The last time we saw a geomagnetic storm of this size was in 2003,” Mr Hammond said.

The Sun is in the most active period of its 11-year cycle. This means you may get another opportunity to see the Northern Lights in the coming weeks.

“The sunspot regions that produced all the solar flares and coronal mass ejections are now rotating away from the sun and away from Earth,” Mr Hammond said.

“But after a few weeks, that area will begin to rotate to face Earth again.”

Light, or the Aurora Borealis, appears in the sky when electrically charged particles from the Sun travel across space and collide with Earth's atmosphere.

Why you can see the Northern Lights again in the UK

To see the Northern Lights in the UK, many conditions need to be met and timing is important.

First, you need an active sun that emits coronal mass ejections.

Second, these solar explosions must be aimed at Earth. Then, if solar activity becomes strong enough, geomagnetic storms will occur when solar activity collides with our magnetic field.

The higher the level of geomagnetic activity, the greater the chance of seeing the lights across the UK, so ideally we would need a G4 or G5 geomagnetic storm.

Then timing is everything. The greatest activity should occur at night.

And finally, the weather also plays a big role. This is because clear skies are very important to see the Aurora.

If you missed the spectacular sights in May, you'll be lucky again in early June. Once the Sun rotates on its axis, the cluster of active sunspots will be in the right position to fire back towards Earth.

However, it's not easy to predict long in advance about the likelihood of a sighting, so it's worth keeping an eye on aurora viewing websites and apps. Especially since 2024 has been designated as the Year of the Aurora.

Most of these particles change direction, but some are captured by the magnetic field and accelerated towards the North and South Poles.

This is why we usually see light near the magnetic poles. However, sometimes solar storms are powerful enough to be visible farther from the poles.

Image: Northern Lights in Edinburgh

When the Sun is at its least active during its 11-year cycle, a period known as “solar minimum,” we observe these emissions about once a week. At our current point in the cycle, “solar maximum,” we see an average of two to three times a day.

For a display as huge and visible as last weekend's, several factors need to come together, according to Sky News meteorologist Kirsty McCabe.

“Timing is important: first you need an active sun to emit a coronal mass ejection.

“Second, these bursts of solar flare would have to be aimed at the Earth, so if solar activity is strong enough, they would create geomagnetic storms when they collide with our magnetic field.

“The higher the level of geomagnetic activity, the greater the chance of seeing the lights across the UK, so ideally we would need a G4 or G5 geomagnetic storm. Then, depending on the timing, the greatest activity should occur at night.

Image: Aurora at Hazlemere, Bucks. Photo: Deb

“Finally, weather also plays a big role. Clear skies are very important to see the Northern Lights,” said Kirsty McCabe.

It takes about 27 days for the Sun to rotate on its axis, which could mean we could see another view of the same area of ​​the Sun in early June.

Read more on Sky News: Best photos of the Northern Lights lighting up skies across the UK 'Wall of Death' exercise could keep moon settlers in shape. Giant solar explosion could help NASA find ways to live on Mars

“It’s not easy to make long-ahead predictions about the likelihood of sightings, so it’s worth keeping an eye on aurora viewing websites and apps, especially now that 2024 has been designated the Year of the Aurora,” McCabe said.

Solar activity causes problems here on Earth, especially for systems that rely on satellites.

Elon Musk's Starlink satellite, which provides internet connectivity to remote areas, was “under a lot of pressure” during last week's solar storm, X claims.

Image: Aurora over High Wycombe.

Tractor manufacturer John Deere warned customers that its GPS system was “severely damaged” by the storm.

And parts of New Zealand's national power grid were switched off to “prevent damage to equipment”, according to the supplier.

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Mr Hammond said last weekend's display was a “very unusual situation”.

However, many people hoping to see the spectacular Aurora may still be lucky.

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