Sky-gazers were treated to a rare show of colour in the sky last night, with the Northern Lights being visible across the UK.

Also known as Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights are usually best seen in high latitude regions closer to the Arctic, such as Scandinavia.

In the UK, usually only Scotland and parts of northern England are lucky enough to see the special sight, but this time even parts of southern England – such as Kent and Cornwall – reported sightings.

Northern Lights seen from north Oxfordshire. Pic: Mary McIntyre

The Met Office confirmed late on Sunday: “A coronial hole high speed stream” had combined with “a rather fast coronial mass ejection” leading to Aurora sightings across the UK.

According to the Royal Museums Greenwich, Aurora is caused by atoms and molecules in our atmosphere colliding with particles from the Sun.

The wavy patterns of light are caused by the lines of force in the Earth’s magnetic field, and the different colours are made by different gasses – the green is characteristic of oxygen, while the purple, blue or pink are caused by nitrogen.

The lowest part of an Aurora is usually around 80 miles from Earth’s surface but the top could be many thousands of miles above Earth.

Aurora from Stirling, Scotland. Pic: Nasir Arafat
Aurora from Stirling, Scotland. Pic: Nasir Arafat

How do I see the Aurora from the UK?

The further north you are, the more likely you are to see the display – if you’re on Twitter, check out @aurorawatchuk, where the space physicists at Lancaster University will tweet when the Aurora may be visible from the UK.

The conditions still need to be right – dark and clear nights, with as little light pollution as possible.

The Met Office has said that the Aurora is likely to be visible to parts of the UK again tonight.

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