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Aurora borealis (northern lights) in the night sky
Photograph: Shutterstock

How to see the northern lights tonight in the UK

Here’s everything you need to know about the rare aurora borealis lighting up British skies

Amy Houghton
Liv Kelly
Written by
Amy Houghton
Liv Kelly

Always wanted to see the northern lights but don’t fancy trekking up to the Arctic? You’re in luck. Sometimes the lights are visible in the UK – and right now is a great season for catching a glimpse of them. Following an exceptional displaying last night (March 24) caused by a major ‘solar eruption’, tonight the lights may again be visible in the UK.

Aurora borealis (as the lights are otherwise known) is more commonly seen in far northern parts of the country like Scotland and Northern Ireland. Nationwide displays are a very rare occurrence indeed. 

Want to get a glimpse of this fabled phenomenon? Fret not. We’ve got all the info right here to give you the best chances of seeing the dancing illuminations. Below is everything you need to know about spotting aurora borealis here in the UK.

What are the northern lights? 

The northern lights generally appear in high latitude regions such as the Arctic or Scandinavia. 

Their colourful glow is caused by a stream of charged particles that have escaped the sun (known as solar wind) interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles hit our atmosphere at high speed and combine with oxygen and nitrogen to create a multicoloured burst. A green glow is associated with oxygen while nitrogen causes the appearance  of purple, blue and pink. 

How to see the northern lights in the UK

Lights are often visible to the naked eye throughout much of Scotland. The further north you go, the better your chances.

Southern areas of Scotland, England and Wales are also sometimes able to catch sight of the aurora, though typically only in rural areas with little light pollution.

While tonight’s display likely won’t be quite as easily visible as the extra-strong solar storm over the weekend, huge swathes of Scotland may see the phenomenon. 

Want to see it? Conditions in the sky need to be as clear and cloud-free as possible. Try to find a dark location with as little light pollution as possible. For optimum viewing, face the northern horizon. 

What’s the best time to see the aurora? 

The lights are often viewable anytime between 9pm and 2am, though the best sightings are usually when the skies are darkest (11pm-midnight). Tonight’s solar storm is set to peak between 8.30pm and 3am.

When will the northern lights be visible again?

The chance to see this wonder of nature doesn’t come around too often and the lights are notoriously hard to predict. Predictions change for different parts of the northern hemisphere, too. But it’s worth knowing the late September to mid-March is typically thought of as the best period to see the lights and is what some like to call ‘aurora season’. 

To keep an eye on their activity you can look at the AuroraWatch website. Don’t fancy waiting around? Here's our list of the best places in the world to catch a glimpse of the northern lights

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