Spot the aurora borealis tonight!

The aurora borealis have been spotted in northern parts of the UK this month, and 2012 is set to be one of the best years in recorded history for spotting the northern lights. Here we take a closer look at this amazing natural phenomenon and explain how and why it occurs.

The aurora borealis is a unique natural phenomenon that is usually only observed in countries that are further north than the UK, such as Norway, Sweden and Finland. Last weekend, however, the aurora was spotted across the northern half of the UK due to a strong solar flare. And there is a strong possibility of more spectacular displays tonight.

Shortly before 5am this morning there was a powerful explosion on the sun, causing a huge cloud of electrically charged particles to be blown into space. These particles have a speed of two thousand kilometres per second on the route to Earth.

It is not known exactly when the plasma particles will arrive on earth, but in all probability it be in the late afternoon. During the evening there may northern lights visible from right across the UK, including the south.

For your best chance of seeing the lights, head to somewhere that it is dark outside - i.e. away from city lights. Of course, it it will also need to be clear overhead. The best chance to see the lights is a place with an unobstructed view to the north - perhaps from a hill in the countryside or even an observatory.

Rumours have been swirling regarding disturbances that the strong aurora borealis may have on the earth. The solar flare could cause minor malfunctions in electronics and satellite communications. So if your phone fails or you suffer from poor radio reception, it could be time to head outside to enjoy the special aurora!

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