Auroras expected to be brightest for a year

Night sky lovers may be celebrating as auroras are predicted to be at their brightest for a year and there is also the prospect of night-time video footage. The Met Office has said the…

Auroras expected to be brightest for a year

Night sky lovers may be celebrating as auroras are predicted to be at their brightest for a year and there is also the prospect of night-time video footage.

The Met Office has said the initial event was registered by observers on Wednesday at 50,000 kilometres (31,000 miles) away.

In a statement, the Met Office said that that the – as yet unnamed – northwesterly wind could help forecast a visible aurora in the UK.

The Met Office spokeswoman Helen Chivers told the BBC: “What we are expecting is probably a very weak event.

“We will monitor conditions quite closely and we may be able to pinpoint whether there is an event of some magnitude or otherwise at some point.”

Technically, auroras are highly unstable displays of light and sound when charged particles from the Sun are steered into Earth’s magnetic field. When they hit the lower atmospheres of our planet, they produce the light phenomena, as well as an electromagnetic spectacle known as the Northern Lights.

According to Lucy Dine, of the British Meteorological Office, the border of Scotland and the Northern Isles, “has got a fairly good risk of seeing auroras” due to the strong winds, which she said could “either be supportive or actually part of the phenomenon itself”.

But she added: “It’s not an indication of how often we will see them. It’s something that might happen and then, if things go poorly, we won’t see it for years after that.”

The event has been widely celebrated by amateur astronomers. Bill McGuire, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London, said that the temperature in the atmosphere, where the aurora can be seen, was expected to be at least 40C.

“Auroras are kind of unpredictable, they are just products of the magnetic field around us, and we have it in abundance,” McGuire said.

He explained that the first visible sign that something had happened would be a green-coloured glow “where the air gets a little bit warm, above the ground”, followed by an area of temperatures three degrees Celsius cooler, from which the lights form.

McGuire added: “It doesn’t usually happen until between 11pm and 7am. It really depends on the wind.”

Northern lights are usually best seen in winter, which McGuire said was because of the comparatively cool temperatures of the Northern Hemisphere.

During brighter events, McGuire said, onlookers may be able to take video footage that will appear on YouTube and other social media sites as the aurora approaches.

Auroras are typically very hard to photograph, McGuire added, because there is so much variation between the direction in which the light shines from the top of the horizon and the bottom.

Auroras are triggered by the geomagnetic storm of a solstice, on the second Saturday of March.

The effects are typically felt before or after midnight by parts of western Europe and Canada.

Because skywatchers will see some changes in the signals of auroras on Wednesday, the BBC has uploaded an animated gif of a different kind: the World Cup dashboard, so that it can provide plenty of entertainment at 5am.

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