Want to see the Northern Lights in Ireland? Here’s what to do

Christine Bohan
17 January 2014
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(Gerard Fritz/Eye Ubiquitous/Press Association Images)

FOR ANYONE WITH an interest in catching a sight of the jaw-droppingly beautiful Northern Lights over Ireland, the last year has been a boom time.

The shimmering solar phenomena has been spotted frequently in northern parts of the country. However it can be difficult to know whether or not it will be possible to see the aurora borealis until the night in question, according to Astronomy Ireland.

The group advises would-be astronomers to find a place with a clear northern horizon in a dark location – which means go as far north as you possibly can – and then there’s an element of crossing your fingers.

On top of that, there are a few things you can do to find out whether you’re in with a good shot of seeing the lights or not, and Visit Inishowen has put together this useful checklist along with photographer Adam Rory Porter so people can check out the odds of actually being able to see the magnificent lights.

1. Check out the space weather alerts

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The US-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides this slightly antiquated-looking but extremely useful chart which is updated every 15 minutes throughout the day on its website.

Check out the dates which run along the bottom of the page. If the date has got a green bar on it, then there’s a high possibility of seeing the Northern Lights. However if it’s white then there’s no possibility of seeing them. Sorry.

The green line will either be at 01, 02, or 03, with 03 giving you the best chance of seeing them.

2. Check the Aurorea Borealis prediction

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Softservenews.com will give you a Kp value, which tells you how likely it is that the Aurora Borealis will be visible. Put simply, the Kp is a number from 0 to 9 which refers to geomagnetic activity.

If the number is 4 or more, then that’s good news – get out and head North after dark as long as the skies are clear. If it’s less than 4 then you’re better off staying at home.

3. Check the forecasting map

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Staying on Softservenews.com, scroll down the page and check out the real-time aurora forecast map.

The map gives a 3040 minutes forecast of the predicted size of the aurora with a useful colour-coded probability of seeing the aurora over various spots on the Earth. When the green circle moves towards Ireland and is coloured yellow or red, there is a very high possibility that you’ll be able to see it.

However it should be visible once the bar hits at least 50 per cent (light green) on the chart.

4. Don’t forget the weather

Having checked all this, the other factor is that one big variable – the weather. Cloud, wind and heavy rain will all make it more difficult to see the lights, so keep an eye on the forecast on Met Éireann or another weather website.

5. Where to go

Some of the best photographs of the Northern Lights from the past year have been taken in Inishowen close to the most northerly tip of Donegal, with Malin Head, Dunree, Mamore Gap and Dunaff all suggested as some of the best spots to get a view of them.

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Inishowen in Donegal (Image: Google Maps)

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