Northern Lights visible in England and Wales as severe solar storm hits

By John Mercury May 11, 2024

The skies over the UK were lit up in a brilliant pink and green from the Northern Lights last night due to a severe solar storm.

The impressive Aurora Borealis, usually only visible from northern parts of the British Isles, was visible across large parts of the UK overnight, including Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and, unusually, southern England.

Scroll down to see some of the pictures from across the UK…

Northern Lights from High Wycombe
High Wycombe

It comes after America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its first severe solar storm warning since 2005 yesterday as a huge geomagnetic storm raced towards Earth.

Fears were also raised that the storm could interfere with infrastructure, including the power grid and satellites.

See the latest weather forecast where you are

The huge solar storm was created by successive coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that have left space a “mess”, one space physicist told Sky News.

CMEs are when a large cloud of high energy plasma erupts from the Sun, into space, and currently there is a sunspot spitting a number out – aimed right at Earth.

Northern Lights from Hazlemere, Bucks
Hazlemere, Bucks

‘Space is a mess’

Professor Mathew Owens, a space physicist at the University of Reading’s department of meteorology, told Sky News: “Space is a mess right now, there’s six or seven of these eruptions piling up right now between the Sun and Earth and we’re predicting they’re going to arrive at 2am [11 May].”

Ahead of the event, the Met Office told Sky News: “With clear spells likely for many on Friday night, there’s an increased chance of aurora visibility for some, particularly across Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of northern England and Wales.

“Given the right conditions, there is the chance it may even be visible further south.”

How to see the Northern Lights

The good news is that many places will have clear skies overnight and it’s not going to be too cold either.

The best chance of seeing the Northern Lights will be from Scotland and Northern Ireland, although the northern and western isles will be cloudier at times.

Parts of northern England and North Wales may also get lucky, especially if you can get onto higher ground away from the light pollution of the towns and cities.

It’s less likely you’ll see them further south, but not impossible.

It might sound obvious, but as well as clear and dark skies you need to look towards the northern horizon, so a north-facing coast is a great place.

And even if you can’t see much with your eyes, try using your smartphone or camera. Even better if you have a tripod and can set up a long exposure.

Interestingly, the solar flares will also boost UV levels. Something to watch out for over the next couple of days in the sunshine.

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Professor Owens added: “The worry is there’ll be effects on the power grid. I don’t expect those to be significant but you never know.”

The NOAA says: “Geomagnetic storms can … potentially disrupt communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations.”

Northern Lights from Somerton, north Oxfordshire
Somerton, north Oxfordshire

Satellites are also vulnerable because they can be affected directly by radiation caused by CMEs, while power grids are affected because the solar discharge can warp the Earth’s own magnetic field, impacting them.

The solar flares and CMEs that have caused all the “mess” in space began on 8 May and picked up the pace in recent days.

The explosion of plasma and magnetic fields are focused in one sunspot that is actually visible from Earth and can be seen safely through a pair of eclipse glasses.

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It’s difficult to predict the precise impacts, or exactly how far south the Northern Lights will reach because of natural uncertainty within forecasts and the difficulty of measuring the oncoming electromagnetic fields of the eruptions too far ahead of time.

This gives them “very little warning” to the potential severity of the impacts.

Northern Lights from Bournemouth. Pic: Jamie Trowbridge
Bournemouth. Pic: Jamie Trowbridge

A spokesperson for Energy Networks Association, which represents the UK’s electricity networks, told Sky News: “The energy industry plans for a range of events far and wide – including into space.

“We’re monitoring the space weather forecast carefully.”

Here are some of the best pictures we’ve received so far…

The Northern Lights, taken from Shenley in Hertfordshire.
Shenley in Hertfordshire

Northern Lights from Little Horsted, East Sussex. Pic: Max Coates
Little Horsted, East Sussex. Pic: Max Coates

Northern Lights over Great Malvern. Pic: Callum Welfare
Great Malvern. Pic: Callum Welfare

Northern Lights from Windsor

Northern Lights over Salisbury. Pic: Elena Toms
Salisbury. Pic: Elena Toms

Northern Lights from High Wycombe
High Wycombe

The Northern Lights from Watford. Pic: Tom Carroll
Watford. Pic: Tom Carroll

The Northern Lights, from Hardy's Monument, Dorchester, Dorset. Pic: Sam Williams
Dorchester, Dorset. Pic: Sam Williams

Northern Lights from Scotland. Pic: Sarah Mills
Scotland. Pic: Sarah Mills

The Northern Lights, from Watford

Northern Lights over Northwood, north west London
Northwood, north west London

Northern Lights from Burnham, South Bucks.
Burnham, South Bucks

Northern Lights from Southend, Essex
Southend, Essex

Northern Lights over Cornwall

Northern Lights over north Norfolk. Pic: Dave Rees
North Norfolk. Pic: Dave Rees


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