Northern Lights UK: Exact time to watch aurora borealis tonight as red alert issued

The Northern Lights may be visible over Dartmoor this weekend
The Northern Lights may be visible over Dartmoor this weekend -Credit:UK Weather Chase

Experts have pinpointed the exact time to catch a glimpse of the northern lights tonight. The app Aurorawatch UK has sounded a red alert for this evening, indicating that the aurora borealis is expected to be visible across much of the UK once again.

Stargazers were left in awe last night when the celestial display was seen across the entire country, even reaching southern regions around midnight. With another round of solar activity on the horizon, there's a buzz of excitement for what could be another spectacular showing.

Prof Mathew Owens earlier today shared his insights on X, stating: "And as we all collectively take a breath, a reminder there's a couple more CMEs en route for tonight! Though it's unlikely to anything like as impressive as last night's show."

Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) are significant releases of plasma and magnetic fields from the Sun's corona.

The mesmerising dance of pink and green lights was visible not just in the UK but also parts of Europe after an "extreme" geomagnetic storm enhanced their visibility, as reported by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), reports Wales Online.

Tonight's display is anticipated to be less intense than the previous one, but still worth watching. For the best viewing experience, look to the skies after 11pm, with the potential for the lights to remain until about 2am.

Chris Snell, a Met Office meteorologist, has confirmed sightings of the Northern Lights "from top to tail across the country". He remarked: "It is hard to fully predict what will happen in the Earth's atmosphere, but there will still be enhanced solar activity tonight, so the lights could be visible again in northern parts of the UK, including Scotland, Northern Ireland and the far north of England."

Mr Snell also noted that Friday night brought sightings in various parts of Europe, with the Met Office receiving reports and images from as far afield as Prague and Barcelona. For those keen to catch a glimpse of the aurora on Saturday, he suggests finding a spot away from light pollution and using a quality camera, saying: "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."

He added a note about the challenges posed by the time of year, stating: "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."

While southern UK residents may find it less likely to see the aurora on Saturday, Mr Snell did not rule out the possibility, especially for those equipped with strong camera lenses. Meanwhile, Paul Norris, 47, from Allerton Bywater in West Yorkshire, expressed his surprise at the phenomenon, commenting that seeing the lights was "not what we'd expect on the outskirts of Leeds".

He shared: "My wife Emma and I woke our eldest daughter Phoebe (12) up to see them. It could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it's certainly the first time I've seen them. We spent about an hour watching them move across the sky."

In Thorngumbald, East Yorkshire, local resident Sarah Sharpe expressed her joy at witnessing the aurora, stating: "It was truly spectacular, probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I've waited to see the Northern Lights for a very long time. A dream come true to see such a fantastic display."

A G5 geomagnetic storm, which is the highest level of solar storm, struck Earth on Thursday, caused by a "large, complex" sunspot cluster that was 17 times the diameter of Earth, as reported by NOAA.

The last occurrence of a G5 storm was over two decades ago in October 2003, which led to power outages in Sweden, as Professor Carole Haswell explained on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme on Saturday morning.

Prof Haswell, head of astronomy at the Open University, highlighted the impact of solar storms on modern technology: "A lot of the satellites communicate using radio signals and all of these charged particles speeding around disrupt radio signals, particularly GPS which is used by planes can be disrupted so it can cause navigation problems, it can cause outages with satellites, it can bring down power systems. The last big G5 storm caused a power outage in Sweden and I haven't heard of anything happening this time yet, so hopefully people have designed in sort of redundancies into their systems so that they can actually weather this sort of space weather."

The Energy Networks Association reassured the public, with a spokesperson telling PA news agency that the UK's electricity network was functioning normally on Saturday morning despite the solar storm. Prof Haswell also shed light on the science behind the aurora's mesmerising colours, explaining: "Green comes from oxygen which is about 80 to 250 miles above the earth's surface."

"The purple, blue and pink comes from nitrogen and when you get a very strong aurora sometimes you see a sort of scarlet red, and that comes from oxygen which is higher in the earth's atmosphere, at an altitude of about 180 miles."

Auroras are a spectacular natural phenomenon where charged particles collide with atmospheric gases near the Earth's magnetic poles, creating stunning light displays. In the northern hemisphere, these are often seen within the 'aurora oval', spanning latitudes between 60 and 75 degrees.

When the activity is particularly strong, this area expands which is why we can sometimes see the displays as far south as the UK.