Aurora Borealis

Seeing Aurora Borealis in Northumberland

Northumberland is widely regarded as the most reliable place in England to see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

The county sits at latitude 55° which is well south of normal aurora activity, that usually occurs in and around the arctic circle at latitude 66° and northwards. However, from time to time there will be a strong geomagnetic storm, during these periods the aurora can extend down to lower latitudes and will become visible from the UK. At this point Scotland and Northern England are best placed to witness the northern lights dancing across the northern sky.

Looking for the Aurora Borealis

The Aurora is elusive in the UK.

In order to see the Northern Lights from Northumberland you need a particular set of conditions, lots of patience and plenty of luck too ! Having said that, it is possible to improve your chances by monitoring weather conditions, the moon and solar wind data.

To stand the best chance of seeing the Aurora you need:

  • Skies free of heavy light pollution
  • Skies free of clouds (you cannot see the aurora through clouds)
  • A strong geomagnetic storm (powerful solar winds driven by a coronal mass ejection from the Sun)
  • A moonless night (the bright light of the moon washes out views of the aurora)

If all of these conditions come together at the same time then you stand a chance of seeing the Aurora

Aurora Borealis at Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland

Monitoring Aurora Activity

The best way to maximise your chances of seeing the Aurora Borealis is to monitor the relevant data. There are a number of online resources available to help us predict when an Aurora may be likely. Of these there are two in particular that are very useful in offering real time information on solar wind speeds and the earth’s magnetic field.

These can be found in the Some Useful Tools section.

Aurora Borealis at Beadnell, Northumberland
Aurora Borealis at Chathill, Northumberland

Aurora Expectations

Many people expect the Aurora Borealis to be like the photographs, bold, bright and colourful. However the camera picks up a lot more of the colour than the average human eye and more often than not (to most of us) the Aurora appears fairly mono-chrome. However, every persons colour perception is different and during particularly strong geomagnetic storms many people do report seeing colour, most often greens and pinks.

While the lack of a bright colourful display may sound disappointing, the aurora makes up for it with the most incredible dance ! During a good display the whole of the northern sky lights up and huge pillars of light tower up into the sky and dance around.

Once seen, a good display of the Northern Lights will never be forgotten !

Aurora Borealis at Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland

Seeing the Aurora Borealis in Northumberland Top Tips

  • Use these tools to help predict when the aurora may be seen
  • If an aurora is looking likely then check the moon rise and set times to be sure it will be a dark night, also check the cloud cover maps
  • Look for the aurora from a dark place away from light pollution
  • When you head outside your eyes will need at least 10 minutes to adjust to the darkness and start seeing natural light from the night sky
  • If you have a camera then use it to take test images and look for the aurora. Often a building aurora can be seen on a camera before your eyes can see it
  • Be patient. The aurora can often come and go through the night, if you don’t see it straight away don’t give up.

Time Lapse of the Aurora Borealis and Milky Way at Embleton, Northumberland