Institute of Astronomy

Seeing the Northern Lights in the UK

Published on 10/01/2014 
Question: 

I just wondered if you knew the last time the northern lights had been seen in the UK.

As you can probably guess how often the aurora are seen depends on how far north one is.  In the far north of Scotland it is fairly common to see minor auroral displays, provided one is in a dark location, typically they might be visible several times a year (depending on clouds).  Further south sightings become less common and require a major geomagnetic storm associated with a large coronal mass ejection from the Sun.  The frequency of solar activity varies on a roughly 11 year cycle, with coronal mass ejections large enough to cause significant geomagnetic storms more likely to occur around the peak of a cycle.  The current cycle probably peaked late last year, but has been quite a low cycle without any particularly spectacular outbursts.  The last geomagnetic storm powerful enough to produce aurorae visible from most of the UK occurred around 5 August 2011.  Significantly more powerful storms occurred around the peak of the last solar cycle, especially 14th July 2000 and 28th October 2003, which produced auroral displays visible from the Mediterranean.

Page last updated: 10 January 2014 at 19:11