Skywatchers in northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland may be in for a colorful surprise tonight, with the possibility of the Northern Lights streaking across the skies tonight and Saturday evening.
This colorful display will appear as a faint glow or as shifting veils of light in the sky.
"If the skies are clear it will be worth keeping an eye on the northern sky," Jim Wild, a space physicist from the University of Lancaster in the United Kingdom, told The Guardian.
The aurora borealis, according to National Geographic, happens when the Earth's atmosphere is struck by high-speed particles from the Sun. They result in brilliant displays of blue, red, yellow, green, and orange lights shimmering across the sky.
Current displays seen over Canada and the northern United States were sparked by a gigantic solar flare, known as a coronal mass ejection (CME), that collided with our atmosphere on Friday morning.
CMEs - the latest which was a X1.6 class flare, X-class being the most intense type of solar storm - generate currents of charged particles, which then flow along lines of magnetic force into the polar regions of the planet. The upper levels of the atmosphere give these particles a boost of energy, so that when they collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the air, they produce what we know as the northern lights.
These dazzling light displays are called the aurora borealis, or northern lights, when they occur in the north, and the aurora australis, or southern lights, when they are in the south. Normally, auroras are visible almost every night near the Arctic and Antarctic circles.
Those living in the northern United Kingdom have the best chance of catching the auroras at midnight, when the sky is at its darkest. People are advised to wait for clear skies and find a flat horizon to get the best views.
Earlier this year a rare red aurora was seen in the United Kingdom, shown in the video below.
[Credit: Maciej Winiarczyk]
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