Sightings of the Northern Lights have become more frequent in the UK as of late; they are predicted to be the strongest they’ve been for at least a decade this winter. But usually, these incredible sights – which fill the skies with flickering greens, oranges and red hues – are reserved for those much further north than Bristol (like in Glasgow).
But over the weekend (November 5), the aurora borealis was seen as far south as Stonehenge. The official X account (formerly Twitter) posted the above photo yesterday, showcasing orange-red skies over Wiltshire’s iconic stone circle, saying: “Northern Lights over Stonehenge last night”. And we can’t help but feel all hippy-dippy about the two coming together.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we’ll be getting another aurora borealis this far south again soon. “It is presumed that the majority of the enhanced aurora seen overnight on 05 Nov into 06 Nov has now passed,” said The Met Office, with only a small chance of aurora sightings expected in northern Scotland over the next couple of days.
What is the aurora borealis?
It was the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei who named them ‘aurora borealis’ in 1619, but the northern lights have been recorded by humans for thousands of years. The earliest reference comes from a cave painting in France, which is 30,000 years old. Auroras occur (there’s also the southern lights or aurora australis) when charged particles in the solar wind collide with molecules in Earth’s atmosphere.
“Depending on which gas molecules are hit and where they are in the atmosphere, different amounts of energy are released as different wavelengths of light,” according to The Met Office. “Oxygen gives off green light when it is hit 60 miles above the Earth, whilst at 100-200 miles rare, all-red auroras are produced. Nitrogen causes the sky to glow blue yet when higher in the atmosphere the glow has a purple hue.”
Can you see the Northern Lights in Bristol?
Our distance from the North Pole, coupled with ever-increasing light pollution surrounding the city, makes the odds of seeing the Northern Lights ever in Bristol unlikely. However, Weird Bristol has a great story about a time when the aurora borealis was spotted over the city:
On one night in 1564, the skies above Bristol were said to have filled with colourful beams of light. At the time this was seen as a omen heralding the return of the plague to the city but it’s now theorised it was likely the aurora borealis being visible exceptionally far south.