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18th May 2024

Northern Lights ‘red alert’ warnings spark hope phenomenon could be visible again tonight

Ryan Price

Great news for those who missed out last weekend.

If you were one of the unfortunate people who didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis last weekend over Irish skies, you’ll be happy to hear that there’s a possibility they’ll be visible again tonight (18 May).

The Northern Lights dazzled last weekend, with a stunning display of colourful lights being spotted over different parts of the country.

Now, AuroraWatch UK have gotten people excited again, as they issued a ‘red alert’ warning following a magnetic field spike – which suggests the aurora could be visible by eye and camera from anywhere in the UK and maybe even Ireland too.

AuroraWatch UK is run by scientists in the Space and Planetary Physics group at Lancaster University’s Department of Physics.

Over the last day, the service has reported a series of amber and red alerts.

A statement on their website explains: “Amber alert: possible aurora – Aurora is likely to be visible by eye from Scotland, northern England and Northern Ireland; possibly visible from elsewhere in the UK.

“Red alert: aurora likely – It is likely that aurora will be visible by eye and camera from anywhere in the UK.

“Please note that even if we issue an alert, local conditions will still need to be right for you to see aurora.”

Given that these alerts apply to Northern Ireland, it has sparked hope that the celestial phenomenon will appear in the sky above the Republic of Ireland too.

The aurora borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights, occur when electrically-charged particles emanate from solar storms and eventually collide with the Earth’s atmosphere.

Increased solar flare activity sends out electrically charged particles from the sun which become trapped in by the Earth’s magnetic field.

These trapped particles then smash into atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere, heating them up in process – which causes the bright colours we know as the Northern Lights.

The lights are usually visible from countries closest to the Arctic, such as Canada, Iceland and Norway.

But when there is particularly large amount of solar activity, they can be visible further south than usual.

Earlier this week, the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) suggested people could get another chance to see the spectacle this month.

The Sun is expected to reach the most active period in its 11-year solar cycle in 2024, making solar storms – and therefore the chance to see the Northern Lights – much more likely.

According to the RAS, the solar maximum is when the Sun has more sunspots than usual because its magnetic field is becoming stronger and at its most complex, which leads to the release of massive amounts of energy in the form of solar flares and, crucially for aurora, Coronal Mass Ejections.

In layman’s terms, there is a higher chance than usual that the lights could again be visible to much of the UK and Ireland – perhaps even as early as tonight.

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