Rare Northern Lights put on a colourful display in our night skies

The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, are seen over one of the iron men statues at Anthony Gormley's Another Place, on Crosby Beach, Merseyside. Credit: Peter Byrne /PA

The Northern Lights have lit up the night skies across the UK, with hues of green and purple dancing across the skies as far south as Cornwall.

People also reported seeing the display, called the aurora borealis, on Sunday night across Scotland, Merseyside, Lancashire and Wales.

According to the Met Office, the northern lights are usually best witnessed in Scotland, Northern England, North Wales and Northern Ireland. However, under certain, space weather conditions, they can be seen throughout the UK.

The natural light display is caused by charged particles from the Sun interacting with Earth’s magnetic field.

The colour display depends in part on what molecules the charged particles interact with.

Red and green colours tend to be hallmarks of oxygen, pink and red the signs of nitrogen with blue and purple being the results of hydrogen and helium.

The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, over Penmaenmawr, Wales Credit: Handout photo taken with permission from the social media site X, formerly Twitter, by Simon Galston.

Dr Minjae Kim, research fellow, Department of Physics, University of Warwick, said: “During periods of heightened geomagnetic activity, the auroral ovals expand, allowing for sightings further south in the UK.

“While auroras are more commonly observed in northern regions like Scotland, seeing them in other parts of the UK, as seen last night in southern UK, is exceptionally rare.”

Late September to mid-March is generally considered the best period for aurora sightings.Clear, cloud-free skies in dark locations with minimal light pollution, facing the northern horizon offer the best conditions for seeing the display.

Dr Kim said that some of the best places for aurora viewing include: Brecon Beacons National Park, an international dark sky reserve in Wales; Exmoor National Park, an international dark sky reserve in England; Galloway Forest Park, an international dark sky park in Scotland; and Kerry international dark sky reserve in Ireland.

When do we see the Northern Lights ?

The Northern Lights normally occur a few days after a solar storm when a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) takes place.

It's perhaps more easy to imagine an explosion of plasma from the sun results in plasma particles travelling in the direction of the Earth.

The particles from the explosion interact with the Earth's atmosphere in a violent storm in the upper atmosphere and this is what creates the stunning light display.

They are located anywhere from 50 miles high to 400 miles in the Earth's upper atmosphere. (Most of our day-to-day weather occurs in just the top 6 miles of the atmosphere.)

The prime viewing times are during the darkest hours usually from 11pm to midnight, but the lights are typically visible between 9pm and 2am.

Forecasting when the Northern Lights will be visible from the UK again is difficult but, according to the BGS Global geomagnetic activity forecast, no significant enhancements are expected.

Dr Kim said: “Geomagnetic activity is forecasted to remain relatively quiet for the remainder of this period.“As a result, it might be challenging to observe the aurora.“However, tonight (March 4-5) appears to be the most promising night for aurora viewing, albeit still not highly active.”