Environment, Science

The Northern Lights shine over Norfolk

On the evening of the 27 February, the Northern Lights danced over Norfolk in one of the greatest displays the UK has seen in the last twenty years.

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Photo: Chris Bell

The Lights are normally only visible in the UK at the most northerly points in Scotland. However a strong solar storm accompanied by ideal weather conditions meant that they could be enjoyed at much lower latitudes than normal, including areas in Gloucestershire, South Wales, Essex and Jersey.

Three to four days prior to the sightings there was a mass ejection of particles from the sun. These explosions put huge amounts of charged particles into space, which are then captured by the Earth’s magnetic field and attracted towards the geomagnetic poles.

As these particles collide with the atmosphere, a range of colours are produced, with the type of gas and the height of the collision determining the colour of the light. The most common is a yellow to pale green, which is the result of collisions with oxygen atoms at heights up to 150 miles. Similar collisions at altitudes greater than 150 miles produce red aurora, while nitrogen gives off a blue light.

The sun has an 11-year solar cycle, with geomagnetic storms also following this. The solar maximum was reached last year, so sightings of the Lights across more southerly regions may be possible throughout the next year or so. In order to increase the chance of catching a glimpse it is best to head a few miles out of the city to areas with less light pollution.

11/03/2014

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