Society for Popular Astronomy

Aurora and other sky glows

Sometimes, if you are lucky and live in the right part of the world, you will see the sky lit up by a natural glow called the aurora borealis.

Otherwise known as the Northern lights, this phenomenon usually occurs at far northern latitudes. (A similar effect, the aurora australis, or Southern lights, occurs at far southern latitudes.)

Both are due to space weather – the effect of streams of particles flowing from the Sun on atoms in the Earth’s upper atmosphere around our planet’s magnetic poles.

A spectacular view of an aurora, taken by Alan Tough from Lossiemouth beach.

From the UK, the aurora is visible more often from Scotland and northern England, but occasionally stronger displays may be seen further south.

It rarely looks as colourful to the eye as it appears in photographic exposures lasting several seconds, but its rapidly changing appearance can be spectacular and dramatic.

The SPA has an Aurora Section to help members learn more about the various forms that the aurora takes and to observe, and photograph, this beautiful phenomenon for themselves. Best of all, you don’t need any equipment other than your eyes to see it.

The section also monitors another phenomenon seenin summer months, called noctilucent cloud. Unlike normal weather clouds, these mysterious night-shining clouds occur high in the atmosphere.

Click to visit the Aurora Section