The Northern Lights Return to Yorkshire

The Science behind the Aurora Borealis

(Image: Unsplash )

Just as February 2023 came to an end, the Northern Lights were spotted in Yorkshire! Yes, you heard me right… Yorkshire! I guess “northern” is in the name! How does this natural phenomenon work and how come we can sometimes see it yet most of time it remains a mystery? 

Theories about the Northern Lights, or the aurora borealis as it’s also called,  have been troubling physicists and scientists for years as the debate remains: how do green, blue, and purple lights suddenly appear in our sky? 

The scientific understanding is that the natural light show is caused by a disturbance in the sun’s pull on the Earth’s magnetic field.

‘When the Sun’s pull gets disturbed, lights are created!’

These disturbances cause waves, known as Alfven waves, that send electrons at high speeds into the Earth’s atmosphere and create the light aurora that we then see. To put it simply then, for those like me who were never good at physics, when the Sun’s pull gets disturbed, lights are created! 

The sun is a star that is prone to disturbances- geomagnetic storms occur a lot within our atmosphere. When the disturbances are very powerful, they can cause the Earth’s magnetic field to be affected and pulled as well. 

The result of this pulling is that, like anything that is pulled, it has to be released again soon enough. 

‘The molecule reaction 

causes the light aurora.’

When the magnetic field is released it produces the Alfevn waves which travel faster and faster as they move back towards Earth. Within the waves are millions of little electrons which react with the nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the atmosphere. This molecule reaction causes the light aurora. 

The northern lights, as the name suggests, are visible from the Northern Hempisphere. 

‘On clear nights they can be seen from the UK.’

On clear, dark nights they can be seen from the UK although this is rare. So, if you managed to catch a glimpse of them the other night then count yourself lucky!