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Northern Lights head south
Posted: 24 January 2012

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A marvellous display of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, was seen across widespread areas of Scotland and Northern England last night, with reports coming in from Northumberland, The Pennines and Yorkshire.

The Northern lights are a natural light display caused by a stream of highly-charged particles from solar storms hitting our atmosphere and reacting with oxygen and nitrogen atoms. This makes the sky glow typically green and occasionally faintly red. Displays are usually confined to higher latitudes in countries such as Iceland, Norway and Canada but when there is a particularly explosive solar flare, as has been the case this time, then areas further south can enjoy the wonderful sight too.

The Sun today, seen in extreme ultraviolet by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The bright region in the top right was the origin of the latest CME. Image: SDO/NASA/GSFC.

Sunspot 1401 was responsible for producing a M3-class explosive flare on 19 January, resulting in a full-halo coronal mass ejection (CME) that slammed into Earth last night. An even bigger spot, 1402, produced a more powerful M9-class solar flare (so powerful it was on the threshold of being classed an X-flare, the most powerful kind) at around 4am yesterday morning and is predicted to hit the Earth today (24 January). Unfortunately the weather forecast is not favourable but observers should be on alert and hope for clear skies, for the aurora may be visible as far south as London.

If you capture the aurora on camera we would love to receive your images at gallery2012(at)astronomynow(dot)com. Please include your full name and postal address, as well as details of how you took the image (equipment, exposure times etc).