Experts say stunning Northern Lights may be visible again tonight

The Northern Lights pictured in Beaulieu, Chelmsford
The Northern Lights pictured in Beaulieu, Chelmsford -Credit:Samuel Donegan

The Northern Lights stunned most of the UK overnight thanks to an “extreme” geomagnetic storm. Essex was treated to a stunning display, with people from all over the county taking to social media to share their snaps of the rare sight.

They were also spotted in Suffolk, Kent, Hampshire and Liverpool. But the big question for those who missed it is - could they still be seen tonight (Saturday May 11)? ITV News Anglia meteorologist and weather presenter Chris Page said it is possible the Northern Lights will be visible this evening.

“Activity is expected to slowly decline, however there is a good chance (cloud permitting) you’ll be able to see it again tonight,” he said. Met Office spokesperson Stephen Dixon said the conditions that allowed the Northern Lights to appear on Friday night could be replicated on Saturday, but that the exact locations were still unknown, WalesOnline reports.

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“We still have to work out some details on where exactly that will be,” Mr Dixon said. "The combination of clear skies and enhanced activity from the sun reaching Earth would improve the chances of seeing the display," he added.

Chris Snell, a meteorologist at the Met Office, advised those hoping to see the lights on Saturday to head to an area with low light pollution and to use a good camera, adding: “The best chance you have of seeing the lights is if you are away from street lights and areas with lots of light pollution, as any type of light does have a big effect.

“Also, at this time of year, we are fighting the shorter length of nights, so it is unlikely that they will be visible until around 10.30pm or 11 o’clock when it gets really dark.”

The best time to spot the Northern Lights tends to be between 10pm and 2am. Last night’s sightings reached as far as Ireland, with the Irish weather service Met Eireann posting images of the lights in Dublin and at Shannon Airport in Co Clare.

Kathleen Cunnea, in Great Horkesley, Essex, said: “It was absolutely stunning to see.” The visibility of the Northern Lights was increased on Friday because of an “extreme” geomagnetic storm, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Taking to X, formerly Twitter, Chris Page said: "It has been confirmed that last nights rare event was classified as a G5 Extreme Solar Storm by NOAA. This last happened in October 2003. Although not as strong tonight, with a number of geomagnetic storms persisting the #AuroraBorealis could be visible again cloud permitting."

The NOAA said the G5 geomagnetic storm, which is considered extreme and is the strongest level of geomagnetic storm, hit earth on Thursday and could affect communications, GPS and power grids. The cause of this storm is a “large, complex” sunspot cluster and is 17 times the diameter of earth, with the last storm with a G5 rating hitting earth in October 2003, causing power outages in Sweden.

Aurora displays occur when charged particles collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere around the magnetic poles. In the northern hemisphere, most of this activity takes place within a band known as the aurora oval, covering latitudes between 60 and 75 degrees.

When activity is strong, this expands to cover a greater area – which explains why displays can be occasionally seen as far south as the UK.