How to see the Northern Lights from the UK TONIGHT

How to see the Northern Lights from the UK TONIGHT: Met Office issues a ‘red alert’ for stunning auroral displays across Britain as Earth is slammed by a huge solar storm

  • The Northern Lights – aurora borealis – could be seen in southern England tonight
  • Met Office forecasts the arrival of streams of charged particles, or solar winds
  • They were ejected from the sun on Friday, and may interact with our atmosphere

Stargazers are in for a colourful treat tonight, as the Northern Lights are due to be visible across the UK.

The spectacular light show could be visible in the south of England thanks to the arrival of a ‘coronal mass ejection’ (CME) today.

This is a sudden release of plasma from the sun’s corona, the outermost part of its atmosphere, which is composed of charged particles.

These particles are funnelled towards Earth by its magnetic field, and appear as vibrant colours when they interact with our atmosphere.

According to Met Office data, strong solar winds – streams of charged particles –  mean there is a chance the lights could be seen from as far south as Cambridge.

Stargazers are in for a colourful treat tonight, as the Northern Lights are due to be visible across the UK. Pictured: the Northern Lights over Stonehenge

According to Met Office data, strong solar winds – streams of charged particles – mean there is a chance the lights could be seen from as far south as Cambridge

Earlier today, a large CME arrived at Earth after leaving the sun on Friday – they usually take around 15 to 18 hours to reach Earth.


Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are large clouds of energetic and highly-magnetised plasma that erupt from the sun

These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, ploughing through solar wind

These clouds only cause impacts to Earth when they’re aimed at Earth

They tend to be much slower than solar flares, as they move a greater amount of matter

CMEs can be triggered when a storm on the surface of the sun causes a whirlwind to form at the base of plasma loops that project from the surface

These loops are called prominences and when they become unstable they can break, releasing the CME into space

According to the Met Office, solar winds are likely to continue bombarding the UK tonight.

This will see the arrival of minor to moderate solar storms, which have the potential to affect low-Earth-orbit satellites and GPS systems.

Maps provided by the Met Office’s Space Weather arm predict activity from 22:00 BST tonight to 01:00 BST tomorrow morning, but colours may still be visible in the north of Scotland further into the early hours.

Met Office forecasters said: ‘The aurora is likely to be visible given favourable viewing conditions from central and northern areas of the UK and similar geomagnetic latitudes. 

‘There is a slight chance that southern UK may see auroral displays.’

Oliver Claydon from the Met Office spoke to the MailOnline about the potential for seeing the Northern Lights tonight. 

‘In terms of solar activity, the storm from tonight is not expected to be as strong as last night, and it won’t be as visible as far south,’ he told MailOnline

‘However, the skies will be clearer tonight, so there will be more chance of seeing it for those further North.’

He added that the key to getting a good view is minimising the amount of light pollution around you, and going outside when the night is at its darkest.

‘The early hours of the morning is probably best,’ Mr Claydon told MailOnline.

‘Look northwards and try to get as much of the horizon in view as possible.’

He added that, while it was possible stargazers in Cambridge may catch a glimpse, it is looking more likely for those in northern areas like Cumbria, Newcastle and Leeds.

The spectacular light show could even be visible in the south of England, thanks to the arrival of a ‘coronal mass ejection’ (CME) today. Pictured: the Northern Lights on the Scottish coast near Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, with a strong aurora storm, captured at 9pm on March 23

According to the Met Office’s cloud cover map, it is likely to be a cloudy night across most of Wales and southern England from 22:00 BST.

However, it will be largely clear over Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle.

Any clouds over north and south Wales, Birmingham and Nottingham will break apart in the early hours of Tuesday morning. 

The aurora is also likely to be visible in the Southern Hemisphere, at the far south of South America and perhaps the South Island of New Zealand. 

After tonight, the solar winds and storms from the CME will weaken.

While commonly visible from the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, the Northern Lights rarely grace the night sky any further south. 

The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, glow on the horizon at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay on the North East coast. Picture date: Thursday March 23, 2023

Oxygen gives off green and red light, while nitrogen glows blue and purple, and the lights are more often seen in winter when the nights are cold, long and dark.

The energy and small particles from the solar activity travel down the magnetic field lines towards the Earth’s poles, so they appear most strongly there.

But if the activity is really strong, these phenomena can be visible further away.

At the end of last month, a dramatic plasma ejection from the sun meant the Northern Lights were visible as far south as Wiltshire.

Plus, on the nights of February 26 and 27, two particularly strong CMEs meant stargazers in Cornwall experienced them too.

The best way to see the Northern Lights will be to find a dark place away from street lights and ideally a cloud-free sky, according to the British Geological Survey. 

Experts say skywatchers should generally look to the north, although the spectacular sight can be overhead or elsewhere. 

In the north the display is known as the aurora borealis, and in the south it is called the aurora australis. 

Cloud cover at 22:00 BST tonight across UK, which may obstruct view of the Northern Lights in Wales and southern England. However, it will be largely clear in the North and East

The sun goes through an 11-year solar cycle which sees its magnetic field become more or less active.

This in turn causes a fluctuating amount of activity on the sun’s surface.

Surface activity has been increasing ever since the last solar minimum in 2020, so our star is currently at its most active since 2014.

It is expected to reach solar maximum in 2025, so more of these aurora displays are expected in the coming months and years.

An example of this is the colossal ‘solar tornado’ spotted last month that reached a height 14 times larger than Earth.

The twister, composed of plasma and heat, measured more than 74,500 miles high and moved up to 310,000 miles per hour.

Additionally, at the end of last month, a hole 20 times larger than Earth in the sun’s atmosphere generated solar storms.

Coronal holes – a common occurrence on the sun – are areas of open magnetic field from which high speed solar wind rushes out into space. 

They were first spotted by NASA’s Skylab in the early 1970s, but scientists still aren’t completely sure what causes them to form.

They may appear at any time of the solar cycle, but they are most common during the declining phase. 

This enormous hole unleashed 1.8 million-mile-per-hour solar winds towards the Earth. 

Additionally, at the end of last month, a hole 20 times larger than Earth in the sun’s atmosphere (pictured) generated solar storms 


Solar storms, or solar activity, can be divided into four main components that can have impacts on Earth:  

  • Solar flares: A large explosion in the sun’s atmosphere. These flares are made of photons that travel out directly from the flare site. Solar flares impact Earth only when they occur on the side of the sun facing Earth.  
  • Coronal Mass Ejections (CME’s): Large clouds of plasma and magnetic field that erupt from the sun. These clouds can erupt in any direction, and then continue on in that direction, plowing through solar wind. These clouds only cause impacts to Earth when they’re aimed at Earth. 
  • High-speed solar wind streams: These come from coronal holes on the sun, which form anywhere on the sun and usually only when they are closer to the solar equator do the winds impact Earth. 
  • Solar energetic particles: High-energy charged particles thought to be released primarily by shocks formed at the front of coronal mass ejections and solar flares. When a CME cloud plows through solar wind, solar energetic particles can be produced and because they are charged, they follow the magnetic field lines between the Sun and Earth. Only charged particles that follow magnetic field lines that intersect Earth will have an impact. 

While these may seem dangerous, astronauts are not in immediate danger of these phenomena because of the relatively low orbit of manned missions.

However, they do have to be concerned about cumulative exposure during space walks.

This photo shows the sun’s coronal holes in an x-ray image. The outer solar atmosphere, the corona, is structured by strong magnetic fields, which when closed can cause the atmosphere to suddenly and violently release bubbles or tongues of gas and magnetic fields called coronal mass ejections

The damage caused by solar storms 

Solar flares can damage satellites and have an enormous financial cost.

The charged particles can also threaten airlines by disturbing Earth’s magnetic field.

Very large flares can even create currents within electricity grids and knock out energy supplies.

When Coronal Mass Ejections strike Earth they cause geomagnetic storms and enhanced aurora.

They can disrupt radio waves, GPS coordinates and overload electrical systems.

A large influx of energy could flow into high voltage power grids and permanently damage transformers.

This could shut off businesses and homes around the world. 

Source: NASA – Solar Storm and Space Weather 

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