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Can You See The Northern Lights From England? Aurora Borealis UK

Updated on August 2, 2012

In this article we are going to see if it is possible to see the Northern Lights in England. We will tell you a little bit about the Northern Lights also known as the Aurora Borealis and tell you just how far south you can actually see this wonder of nature. If you live in England and are wondering if seeing the Aurora is a possibility, then this page will give you the answer.

High in the skies of the northern part of the world a strange glow often illuminates the skies. For many years this glow was the stuff of legends. People feared, admired and even worshipped this other worldly glow. Now of course we understand what causes the Northern Lights and many people head north to try to catch of glimpse of the Aurora Borealis. But do you have to travel high up towards the Arctic Circle or can you view the lights from further south?

The Northern Lights

So first of all let’s get right to the point. Is it possible to see the Northern Lights in England? The simple answer is yes! On a few rare occasion the lights are bright enough to be able to see them from many places in the UK. Up in Scotland the lights make quite a few appearances but even as far south as England you can sometimes catch a glimpse of something glowing on the horizon.

Make no mistake though. If you do live in the UK and are hoping to see something, you need the conditions to be absolutely perfect. Seeing a stunning overhead display that you might witness in Northern Canada or up in Norway is something that is not going to happen. But when conditions are just right you should be able to see something on the horizon. If things do work out then you need to be facing north with a clear view of the horizon. The Aurora will be very low in the sky so you want a clear spot to view from. It will also help if you are a long way from light pollution, so you’re not going to see anything if you are in the middle of a town or city.

So as we mentioned you need some pretty amazing conditions if you want to spot the Aurora from England. So what factors are we talking about?

KP Index Level 2

KP Index Level 8

The Level Of Activity From The Aurora Borealis

First of all then let’s explain how the lights work. The strange glow in the sky is the result of solar particles that have come from our sun, these drift towards earth on the solar wind and when they collide with our atmosphere they start to glow. The brightness of the lights and just where they reach too is measured by working out how many particles are going to enter our atmosphere. An active Aurora will produce stunning displays over a large area, whereas a quiet level of activity will produce little or no lights in the sky.

The level of activity is measured on a scale that goes from 0KP to 9KP. When the level reaches 2KP or 3KP you need to be a long way north to be able to see anything. These displays take place on a regular basis and are quite common. When there is a low level of activity it is not possible to see anything from England. However, when there has been a solar storm, then a few days later when these particles reach the earth the level of activity will be far higher and then displays can be seen as far south as Scotland and on a very rare occasion, England.

For this to be realistic then the KP level needs to reach at least 7 or even higher. This is something that will not take place very often. But when the level gets up to 7KP or 8KP then as far south as England you should be able to see a glow on the horizon. The picture on the right shows how far south the lights reach when a level 8KP event happens. The picture above shows a KP index of 2, as you can see Scotland is just on the tip of the map and the lights do not stretch far enough south to give anywhere in the UK a chance to see them. The level can reach right up to nine, but this is really a once in a generation kind of event that we may never even witness.

The Aurora Borealis

How Often Do The Northern Lights Reach England

So all this technical talk is all very well, but in reality what does it all mean. How likely are you to witness the Aurora if you live somewhere in the UK? Well in an average year the level of activity will reach ‘storm level’ on maybe one occasion. However, the good news is that the years of 2012 and 2013 are likely to produce the most solar activity we have seen for around fifty years. This is due to a long running cycle that the Aurora runs on, it is due to reach it’s peak in these years.

So in 2012/13 we are likely to see lots of solar storms producing an unprecedented level of activity from the Northern Lights. This means that over the winter months there should be several occasions where England is given the opportunity to witness these mystical glow. Even if you are located in the south of the UK there is a chance that we may have a massive solar storm producing KP levels into the high eights, if this does happen then it is not unthinkable that even areas such as Cornwall, Dorset and London will get to see something.

One of the problems with England though can be the weather. The British weather is the stuff of legend, sometimes skies can be cloudy for weeks on end. So you may have the best Aurora in history, but cloudy skies will mean you can see nothing at all. You need a clear crisp night for viewing as well as a very high level of activity from the Aurora. Some people assume that you need it to be cold to be able to see anything, this is not true, all you need is darkness. Sometimes you can even see the lights in the summer months.

So as you can see the reality is that you can actually see the Northern Lights in England. In most years this is not really all that likely, but over 2012/13 and then even into 2014 the chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis are greatly increased. There are forecasts you can check out online that predict the Aurora and will give you an idea of when you should be looking for something. You don’t have to travel to Norway to witness this impressive display of nature, even if you live in England there is a chance for you to catch a glimpse of this beautiful phenomenon.


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