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Spotting the Northern Lights on the Isle of Skye

by robcarr00032

Chasing the Northern Lights in Scotland

On the morning of May 11th, the Northern Lights graced the front pages of newspapers worldwide, spanning from Scotland to Germany to Alabama. Social media overflowed with photos from those who prioritised the celestial extravaganza over sleep, as we bore witness to a category G5 geomagnetic storm for the first time since 2003.

Fortunately for my tour group, who had yet to witness the Northern Lights, we too had the privilege of experiencing this spectacle. Located in Earlish on the Isle of Skye during our 8-day tour of Scotland, we found ourselves under ideal conditions: in a wonderfully remote location under a clear sky with minimal light pollution.

However, patience was the key. With the sunsetting at 21:28, it wasn’t until just after 11 pm, under the blanket of darkness, that the sky burst into life. Immediately, my heart started racing like a kid on Christmas morning and I raced to my phone and sent a message to my group. Hoping that they were awake to take the opportunity to make their dreams of seeing the Northern Lights in Scotland come true. And they were!

Yet, they didn’t appear as anticipated. The last couple of times I had encountered the Northern Lights on Skye had always involved gazing northward. However, this time, it wasn’t until I turned south that I saw the real magic! At first we saw a beautiful pink glow in the sky with long strands starting to dance, shift and gliding across the atmosphere. Then came the vibrant green aurora corona intensifying above our head a rare phenomenon where the auroras form a crown-like shape. We ended up being out there for 2 hours taking full advantage of this gift that was handed to us.

Northern Lights Corona

Aurora Corona

How to see Northern Lights in Scotland

The Northern Lights seen over UK skies last weekend are unlikely to be the final display of 2024, as the Sun nears its ‘solar maximum’, indicating heightened activity on its surface. If you want to experience the Northern Lights in their full glory then this year is your chance! Especially in Scotland!

So how do you spot the Northern Lights in Scotland? 

Theoretically, the further north and more remote you go the higher your chances of witnessing the Aurora Borealis. So make sure to escape the city and venture into the highlands and islands, ensuring a clear or partly cloudy sky for optimal visibility and little light pollution. Be sure to position yourself where the sky is unobstructed by mountains, granting a full view of the celestial spectacle.

Once you are in position, make sure to check your  resources: AuroraWatchUK App or Glendale Skye Auroras. The Aurora App provides real-time updates and alerts on the level of Geometric Activity. Red warnings indicating a high chance of seeing them! The Glendale Facebook page is also extremely useful especially for people travelling to the Isle of Skye. The owner is a passionate star gazer based in Uig and provides live updates and photos of what they can see when they appear. 

If it’s your first time witnessing the Northern Lights, temper your expectations; the reality can differ from photos. However, if you’re unsure what to look for, snap a photo of the sky using your phone’s night mode. If the colours are glowing in the photo, direct your gaze to that exact spot and attempt to discern the spectacle. With luck, you’ll be beholding the enchanting phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis in Scotland. Should you have any queries, feel free to reach out! While not an expert, I can certainly share insights taken from my own experiences.

I hope you have enjoyed the blog and the photos I managed to capture of the event!

Skye Aurora Borealis

 

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