Hunting the heavens for the Northern Lights

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OK. Let me start by predicting that if what you’re about to read has not yet made it onto your bucket list, it will most definitely bump all other things right down to the bottom once you’ve read this. Or at least, it will leave you with itchy feet and that uncontrollable urge to travel and chase it down yourself. Either way, let me introduce you to the Northern Lights.

As the crisp, clear months of winter are fast approaching and the hours of darkness increase the further north you travel, this season is a gala occasion to experience the phenomenal masterpiece of brightly glowing sky known as the Northern Lights, aka the Aurora Borealis.

Named after Aurora (the Roman goddess of dawn) and Boreas (the Greek name for north wind), the birth of this amazing spectacle takes place on the Sun when electrically charged particles emanate and travel in solar winds towards Earth, where they collide with the magnetic fields of the Earth’s atmosphere and set the night sky alive with dancing, curtain-like rainbows of lights.

Ranging from green rippling ribbons to blue swirling, smoke-like dances, to whirling purple arches and diffuse silky luminescence – it comes in all colours, shapes and patterns.

It’s wondrous. It’s dramatic. It’s simply surreal.

Take a look at the amazing Northern Lights photos that our fans shared with us at the end of February 2014 when the phenomenon lit up skies across Scotland.

Northern Lights light up skies across Scotland - February 2014

Northern Lights light up skies across Scotland – February 2014

 

Northern Lights © Fay Vincent

The Northern Lights © Fay Vincent

Now that you know the science behind this striking visual wonder, did you also know that northern Scotland is renowned as one of the top places in the world to go Northern Light hunting? Benefiting from the same latitude as Stavenger in Norway and Nunivak Island in Alaska, it means that without spending a fortune, you’re in with a good chance of spotting one.

Add to this the fact that the strength of auroral activity this winter is predicted to bring one of the brightest Northern Lights displays in 50 years due to the ‘twin peaks’ patter of the ‘Solar Maximum’ (according to NASA), you shouldn’t need more reasons to start planning your Scottish adventure with the ‘Mirrie Dancers’, as they’re known in Shetland.

Where

The northern reaches of Scotland – including Shetland and around the Caithness coast as well as Orkney and the Outer Hebrides. In fact, it can be seen anywhere in Scotland where the light pollution is at a minimum.

When

Autumn and winter are the prime seasons for spotting the Northern Lights – nights need to be cold and the sky clear of clouds with a chance of increased solar activity. Staying up until the wee hours of the morning may also help. You can keep an eye on the Aurora Forecast from Aurora Watch UK which offers notifications on increased auroral activity by free text message alerts.

Check out more facts about the Northern Lights.

Northern Lights © Fay Vincent

The Northern Lights © Fay Vincent

Don’t forget to plan what else you’ll want to see and do in Scotland when you’re not staring up at the night sky imploring the spectacle to occur.

Oh, and don’t forget to pack up something warm – it may be a bit nippy – and your camera, because how else are you going to share your dazzling images of this fantastic phenomenon with us @VisitScotland?

Northern Lights captured over Scotland Top left @ Ian Horne. Top right @ Maciej Winiarczyk. Main bottom @ Michael White

The Northern Lights captured over Scotland
Top left @ Ian Horne. Top right @ Maciej Winiarczyk. Main bottom @ Michael White

 

Aldona Krzemien

Media Editor at VisitScotland
Originally from Poland, she's now based in Edinburgh and can't imagine life without four things: travels, photography, fishing for antiques and haggis!

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