Everything you need to know about the Northern Lights

Have your say

There is a chance that Yorkshire could be dazzled by the Northern Lights as a solar storm looks set to collide with Earth.

READ: Northern Lights could be visible from Yorkshire as solar storm continues crash course with Earth
The storm, which was caused by an enormous explosion in the sun’s atmosphere last week, could wreak havoc with satellite signals and power sources on Wednesday evening, NASA have warned.

The Northern Lights at The Bathing House, Howick. PIC: Lyn Douglas.

The Northern Lights at The Bathing House, Howick. PIC: Lyn Douglas.

And although the chances of seeing the awe-inspiring Aurora in Yorkshire remains slim, there is still a chance that rural areas could get a chance to see the jaw-dropping natural phenomenon.

If you are lucky enough to witness them tonight, wow your friends and family with this comprehensive guide on the Northern Lights.

What are the Northern Lights?

Known as the ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south, the Northern Lights are formed when electrically charged particles from the sun collide and enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and are usually seen above the north and south poles.

Pale green and pink are the most common colours the displays appear in but several other colours including yellow, violet and blue have been reported.

From patches and scattered clouds to arcs or rippling curtains, the Northern Lights can appear in many forms.

The lights of the Aurora can extend anywhere between 50 miles and 400 miles above the Earth’s surface.

What causes the Northern Lights?

When gaseous particles collide with charged particles from the Sun’s atmosphere in the Earth’s atmosphere, the result is the Northern Lights.

The colour - a pale green usually - is produced by oxygen molecules around 60 miles above the Earth.

With the temperature above the surface of the sun millions of degrees, collisions between gas molecules are explosive and frequent. The Sun’s rotation causes free electrons and protons to be thrown from the atmosphere, escaping through holes in the magnetic field. These then begin their journey down to Earth, blown on the solar wind.

Most of them get deflected by the Earth’s magnetic field, but the field is weaker at both poles, allowing some particles to enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collide with gas particles.

Light is emitted from these collisions, giving us the spectacular show we can see from the surface of the Earth.

READ: Stephen Hawking's most memorable quotes on fame, the universe and much more
Where is the best place to view the Northern Lights?

No, unfortunately not around our neck of the woods.

The best places to view this incredible natural phenomenon are northwestern parts of Canada, southern tip of Greenland and Iceland, the northern coast of Norway and over the coastal waters north of Siberia.

Light pollution plays a big part in the visibility of the Northern Lights, hampering the viewing conditions, so rural northern communities tend to be the best.

When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?

According to research, auroral activity peaks around every 11 years. The next peak period is thought to be around 2024.

Northern winter tend to be a popular time to see the Lights, with long periods of darkness coupled with clear nights providing good conditions.

Why is it known as the Aurora?

In Roman mythology, Aurora was the goddess of dawn, which is where the name comes from.

Light has been the focus of legends throughout time, with the Maori people of New Zealand believing the lights were reflections from torches or campfires.