A natural wonder that has fascinated mankind for millennia, the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis are nature’s very own theatrical performance.
Known as the ‘Merry Dancers’, the playful streaks that snake across the night sky can last minutes or merely seconds. Luck is often involved but once you’ve seen it, it’s an experience that will never be forgotten.
Caused by solar wind from the sun colliding with magnetic particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, the end result is truly spectacular. Generally, you can expect to see a blanket of green or red in the sky looking northwards. If the aurora intensifies, you could potentially see arcs as well as rays or curtains of different colours which dart around the night sky. If an aurora is weak, the colour will be faint and almost undetectable.
The best place in the UK to see the Northern Lights is undeniably Scotland. The northern reaches of the country and northern isles, around the Caithness coast and the Orkney Isles, are prime spots to see this fascinating light display. Shetland and The Outer Hebrides are also ideal locations for trying to see the Northern Lights as they have very low light pollution due to the low levels of population.
Aurorae can be seen anywhere in Scotland where light pollution is at a minimum and conditions are right. Although less likely, sightings have been recorded as far south as East Anglia in England.
The best time to spot the Aurora Borealis is generally considered to be in January, but did you know that it's also possible to see the Northern Lights on most cold, clear nights throughout the autumn and winter months?
Although a sighting is never guaranteed and accurate forecasting is difficult, you can sign up for free text message alerts from Aurora Watch UK to notify you when auroral activity is likely to occur and potentially increase your chances to see this phenomenon where you are.
Aurora Watch UK also offers helpful advice, including how to build your own simple detectors to pinpoint the conditions when the Northern Lights are likely to occur.
Read more on hunting the Northern Lights in Scotland on our blog here.