The Aurora Borealis seen from Chiswick

Image: Aurora Borealis over Southfield Park; photograph Aimee Morgans

The Aurora seen all over Britain in rare light show

I once went all the way to Iceland in the hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis and didn’t see it once because the weather was cloudy. We had a lovely holiday anyway, but my point is the received wisdom used to be that you had to go quite far north to see the amazing spectacle of green and pink and purple taking over the sky.

Now, twice in the space of a few months London has been treated to the sight. Although the light pollution made it hard to see, Aimee Morgans managed to get these stunning photographs of the Aurora on Friday night (10 May) over Southfield Park

Images: Aurora Borealis over Southfield Park; photographs Aimee Morgans

What causes the Aurora Borealis?

According to the Royal Museums at Greenwich, the lights we see in the night sky are caused by activity on the surface of the sun. Solar storms give out huge clouds of electrically charged particles which can travel millions of miles.

‘Most of these particles are deflected away, but some become captured in the Earth’s magnetic field, accelerating down towards the north and south poles into the atmosphere. This is why aurora activity is concentrated at the magnetic poles.

“These particles then slam into atoms and molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere and essentially heat them up,” explains Royal Observatory astronomer Tom Kerss. “We call this physical process ‘excitation’, but it’s very much like heating a gas and making it glow.”

‘What we are seeing therefore are atoms and molecules in our atmosphere colliding with particles from the Sun. The aurora’s characteristic wavy patterns and ‘curtains’ of light are caused by the lines of force in the Earth’s magnetic field.

Image: Aurora Borealis over the River Thames from Chiswick Bridge; photograph Joanna Raikes

In London the best places to try and see the Northern Lights are large open spaces such as a park, where there are fewer lights. The Aurora Borealis light show on 18 December last year was captured by Joanna Raikes over the River Thames, in this picture taken from Chiswick Bridge.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar