Tonight, you might be able to cross ‘see the Northern Lights’ off your bucket list without having to travel any further than your back garden.
That’s because the spectacular light show will continue to be visible for households in parts of Scotland.
While commonly visible from the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, the Northern Lights rarely grace the night sky any further south.
However, last night stargazers as far south as Kent and Cornwall experienced them too.
The vibrant colours are the result of an eruption of charged particles from the sun, called a coronal mass ejection (CME), interacting with the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Northern Lights are the result of an eruption of charged particles from the sun, called a coronal mass ejection, interacting with the Earth’s atmosphere. Pictured: The northern lights over Souter Lighthouse in Whitburn, Tyne and Wear on Monday evening
While commonly visible from the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, and occasionally Scotland, the Northern Lights rarely grace the night sky any further south. Pictured: The northern lights over Knowlton Church near Wimborne in Dorset on Monday evening
Residual activity from this is due to continue to be visible tonight, but just not as far south, according to the Met Office’s Space Weather arm.
WHAT ARE CORONAL MASS EJECTIONS?
Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are 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.
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.
Forecasters said: ‘Recent geomagnetic activity is expected to ease during 28 Feb, however further minor geomagnetic storms remaining possible, and perhaps early on 1st Mar.
‘Limited aurora to the far north of Scotland or similar latitudes, but not as far south or as intense as on the previous nights.
‘Activity then easing further with the aurora fading to background levels.’
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.
Looking up at around midnight provides the best chance to spot it, they add.
No further solar flares or CMEs are expected over the next four days, however fast solar winds may enhance any residual activity on Thursday and Friday.
When the charged particles of a CME react with the oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere, they emit green and red lights that appear as spirals, flickers and ‘curtains’ in the sky.
If it is really strong, these phenomena can be visible further away from the North and South poles.
On Sunday and Monday night, there were sightings across southern England, as well as Northern Ireland, south Wales and Norfolk.
This was largely due to two CMEs, which erupted on February 24 and 25 respectively, and collided with the Earth’s atmosphere two days later.
Residual activity from a CME is due to continue to be visible tonight, but just not as far south as it was on Monday and Sunday evening, according to the Met Office ‘s Space Weather arm. Pictured: Aurora forecast in Northern Hemisphere tonight at 21:00 GMT
On Sunday and Monday night, there were sightings across southern England, as well as Northern Ireland, south Wales and Norfolk. Pictured: Northern Lights over London last night
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. Pictured: Northern Lights over Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye last night
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.
Although our sun gives us life, it also frequently ‘sneezes’, ejecting billions of tonnes of hot plasma into space in colossal blobs of matter threaded with magnetic fields.
These are CMEs, and they usually take around 15 to 18 hours to reach Earth.
An aurora appears when atoms in Earth’s high-altitude atmosphere collide with energetic charged particles from a CME, creating breathtaking colours.
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.
Some of the energy and small particles can travel down the magnetic field lines towards the Earth’s poles, so they appear most strongly there.
In the north the display is known as the aurora borealis, and in the south it is called the aurora australis.
An aurora appears when atoms in Earth’s high-altitude atmosphere collide with energetic charged particles from a CME, creating breathtaking colours. Pictured: Stonehenge illuminated by the Northern Lights on Sunday night
A photo taken over the Hebrides in Scotland showed how the sky was painted a vast array of colours as the Northern Lights came to the UK on Sunday night
SOLAR STORMS PRESENT A CLEAR DANGER TO ASTRONAUTS AND CAN DAMAGE SATELLITES
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
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk