Guernsey Press

The Northern Lights put on a spectacular show for islanders

IT WAS a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some islanders who stayed up to experience the Northern Lights on Friday evening.

Pictures of the Northern Lights taken at Albecq on Friday evening. (Picture by Ian Corbin) (33222482)

The clear skies meant the green and purple aurora borealis was visible across the island as well as most of the UK and parts of Europe.

There has been more occasions over the past year or so where weaker sightings of the aurora have been visible.

Friday’s show was due to activity in an 11-year cycle and the solar maximum is approaching, where there are naturally more sunspots on the sun’s surface.

Photographer Ian Corbin headed to Albecq when he was notified by the aurora app on his phone that it would be visible.

‘I’d photographed it once last year but it was nowhere near as good,’ he said.

‘I could see it with the naked eye so I knew it was going to be a good show.

‘I’ve never seen it that bright before, it was an amazing sight to see and it will live in my memories forever.’

He took his camera down to the coast with a wide lens to get the best image.

He was out from about 11.30pm to 1am but between 11pm and midnight was when it was at its brightest.

Appearances of the aurora are becoming more regular not only because of the peak in the 11-year cycle, but also because technology allows better forecasting of when it may be visible.

Most people have smartphones which can better capture the colours than the naked eye.

Jean Dean of La Societe Guernesiaise's astronomy section explained that auroras are the visible manifestation of when high energy solar particles are discharged into space and then travel back to the magnetic fields at the north and south poles.

‘The colour of the aurora depends on which gas is being excited by the solar particles and how excited it becomes. It also depends on how fast the solar particles are moving, the faster they are, the higher the energy at the time of the collision,’ she said.

‘High energy electrons cause oxygen to emit green light, while low energy electrons result in red light.

‘Nitrogen tends to give off blue light, so all of these colours can be blended in a display to give shades of purples, pinks and whites.’

Her advice on seeing the aurora is to download alerts to your phone for auroral activity and find a dark location and look towards the north. Let your eyes adjust to the dark and more detail will become clear.

There was aurora activity again on Saturday night as the geomagnetic storm was still in the ‘strong’ category, however cloud cover meant it was less visible than Friday’s performance.