How to see the Northern Lights in Durham

By

Many people, including myself, have a bucket list. These lists normally include activities or goals to achieve by a certain age, whether that’s to go skydiving, learn a new language, or even run a marathon. Bucket lists involve tasks viewed by most to be particularly challenging yet rewarding. However, one common activity is seemingly easier to accomplish than perhaps most people think — seeing the Northern Lights.

The Northern Lights are a phenomenon thought to have been taking place for thousands of years, with the first suspected record of them being a near 30,000-year-old artwork found on cave walls in France. Furthermore, according to NASA, sightings of the lights have also been traced back as far as the first millennia in both the Chinese and Babylonian empires. These sightings must have been particularly mindblowing for our ancestors given that the scientific basis of the Northern Lights wasn’t resolved until the end of the 20th century.

The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, as termed by Galileo, are probably the most extraordinary natural phenomenon that can be seen in the sky. The lights themselves are generated via high energy particles from the sun crashing into the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of 45 million miles per hour. These particles are redirected to the North and South poles via the Earth’s magnetic field, where, at both poles, electrons and protons from the solar wind release energy in the form of light. The colour of light produced depends on which elements are prevalent in the atmosphere, with oxygen creating green and yellow patterns, whilst nitrogen causes blue or red light to be produced.

The Northern Lights are, unsurprisingly, best seen and most frequently appearing in northern regions. With vice versa being the case for the lesser-known, but equally as magical, Southern Lights. Therefore, going to see the Northern Lights can be a costly process given that the best countries to view them include Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Canada. A week’s retreat to Iceland to tour the lights could set you back a minimum of £700, and that has no guarantee you’ll even see them. However, recently this hasn’t had to be the case.

These are the most extraordinary natural phenomenon

Earlier this year the Northern Lights were spotted in the North East of England. The lights, according to the BBC, could be viewed in Northumberland, South Tyneside and Teesside, with onlookers claiming that they were “incredible to see”. There were even some sightings reported much further south, with The Chronicle claiming they were seen in York. This is particularly extraordinary, and as BBC Look North weather presenter, Abbie Dewhurst, acknowledged, the Aurora Borealis is “not something that happens this far south very often”.

So, how can you see them best in the UK? AuroraWatch UK is a geomagnetic activity index created by Lancaster University’s physics department. It produces a reading of the UK’s “geomagnetic activity” every hour and uses a formula to estimate the likelihood of an aurora taking place. From this, an alert level is given from green to red, with green meaning “no significant activity” will occur and red signifying that an “aurora [is] likely” anywhere in the UK.

In Durham, we should look out for amber alerts, meaning there’s a chance the lights will be seen here.

Illustration:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.