Where and when to see the Northern Lights over the UK tonight

The Northern Lights could be visible on Monday evening in the UK - here's everything you need to know.

UK, Scotland, Dunbar, Long exposure of Aurora Borealis over Firth of Forth at night
It might be possible to see the Northern Lights or aurora borealis over Scotland on Monday. (File photo: PA)

The Northern Lights may be visible in the UK on Monday evening, forecasters have said.

The phenomenon, known as aurora borealis, are usually only visible in the skies above countries close to the North Pole. However, the UK has had its fair share of Northern Lights sightings over the past few years, and could get another on Monday evening.

In a post on Sunday on X, formerly Twitter, the Met Office said the aurora could potentially be viewed "across the north of the UK" because of a "combination of fast solar winds and the recent arrival of a Coronal Mass Ejection from the sun".

The potential appearance of the aurora was first flagged by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, which said the lights could be visible in the UK on Monday, as well as in parts of the US as far south as the Midwest.

According to the British Geological Survey (BGS), the Northern Lights are usually spotted in areas close to the North Pole, such as Scandinavia, Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Russia.

But on Monday there is a chance people in the UK will be able see them.

Forecasters say there is a chance the aurora will be visible in the UK on Monday evening. However, it would appear that they may only be seen in areas of Scotland and that cloud, rain and even snow may hamper potential sightings.

In the past, the lights have usually been seen in the UK between 9pm and 2am when darkness has fallen. At the beginning of this month, the lights were visible as far south as Cornwall.

The aurora, or polar lights, can be seen near the poles of both the northern and southern hemisphere. In the north, the display is known as the aurora borealis, while in the south it is called the aurora australis.

The aurora are sparked by activity on the sun. According to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the lights are caused by solar storms on the surface of the sun giving out clouds of electrically charged particles which can travel millions of miles and collide with the Earth.

Most particles are deflected away but some are captured in the Earth’s magnetic field and accelerate down towards the north and south poles, colliding with atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The lights are the product of this collision between atoms and molecules from the Earth’s atmosphere and particles from the sun.

KIRUNA, SWEDEN - MARCH 7: The Aurora Borealis, commonly known as the Northern Lights, are seen in the sky above Kiruna on March 7, 2024 in Kiruna, Sweden. The area is widely regarded as one of the best places in the world to see the phenomenon, which occurs when energized particles from the sun hit the Earth's upper atmosphere. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
The Northern Lights in the sky above Kiruna, Sweden, on 7 March. (Getty Images)

Royal Observatory astronomer Tom Kerss said: “These particles then slam into atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere and essentially heat them up.

"We call this physical process ‘excitation’, but it’s very much like heating a gas and making it glow.”

The aurora's wavy patterns and "curtains" of light are made by the lines of force in the Earth's magnetic field, the Royal Observatory said.

The lowest part of an aurora is usually about 80 miles above the surface of the Earth, but the top part may extend several thousands miles above the Earth, according to the Royal Observatory.

The colours are caused by the two main gases in the Earth's atmosphere, nitrogen and oxygen.

Different gases give off different colours when they are heated. The green in an aurora is characteristic of oxygen, while nitrogen is behind the purple, blue and pink.

Kerss said: “We sometimes see a wonderful scarlet red colour, and this is caused by very high altitude oxygen interacting with solar particles.

“This only occurs when the aurora is particularly energetic.”