How to Watch the Northern Lights in The U.K.

Skywatchers in the U.K. were treated to a celestial spectacular on Wednesday night as the northern lights appeared much further south than usual, The Telegraph reported.

The northern lights, also known as aurora borealis, are a natural phenomenon that occur when electrically-charged particles from the Sun's atmosphere enter the Earth's atmosphere and collide with particles of gas, creating a spectrum of colours above the North Pole. They are most commonly seen in northern Europe, with countries such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland usually being treated to the best displays.

However, parts of Britain had clear views of the lights last night, with reports of sightings from as far south as Wales, according to The Telegraph.

And that may not be the end of it. The phenomenon will be more visible than usual in the U.K. over the coming weeks as the Earth enters a new alignment with the Sun. Newsweek spoke to Nathan Case, a member of the Aurora Watch U.K. team at Lancaster University, who track geomagnetic activity around the British Isles and sends alerts to users when sightings of the Northern Lights are possible, to find out the best way to see the lights.

When can you see the northern lights in the U.K.?

NOAA, the U.S. agency responsible for measuring geomagnetic activity, predicted that the aurora will be visible in some parts of the U.K. on Thursday night, though it will probably not be as strong as Wednesday's display. The best results are likely to be seen between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. A Met Office spokesperson said that there is an increased chance of further displays over the next two weeks, The Telegraph reported.

However, Case hopes that the spectacular scenes seen on Wednesday will occur frequently over the next few months. The Sun is currently in the "declining phase" of its near 11-year solar cycle, after hitting its peak in 2014. Combined with autumnal darker evenings, this makes it a great time to go aurora-hunting, according to Case.

Where can you see the northern lights in the U.K.?

On Thursday, Scotland and northern England are the best places to view the natural phenomenon, and it's a good idea to head into rural areas with little light pollution, such as the Lake District in northern England. Other good spots include Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales and Exmoor National Park in southwest England, which are two of just nine parks across the globe to have been awarded the status of International Dark Sky Reserves by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Unfortunately for city-dwellers, particularly those in London, the chances of getting a clear view of the northern lights are affected by higher levels of light pollution. "In theory, you might be able to see it from London if everyone turned all the lights off!" says Case.

How you should watch the northern lights?

Case recommends waiting for a clear night with no clouds before heading out to the countryside. He also says that keen photographers should set their cameras to long exposure to let in the maximum amount of light that provides for the best photos of the aurora. Aurora Watch U.K. also provide updates of spots to see the lights via their Twitter feed.

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