Photos: Beautiful Northern Lights illuminate skies over Kent

Northern lights photo by Frank Leppard

The aurora borealis lit up the night sky across the UK, Europe, US and the northern hemisphere overnight and into the early hours today (May 11).

The aurora can be seen near the poles of both the northern and southern hemisphere. In the north the display is known as the aurora borealis; in the south it is called the aurora australis.

The lights are caused by activity on the surface of the Sun.

Photo Sam Hickman

Solar storms on our star’s surface give out huge clouds of electrically charged particles. These particles can travel millions of miles, and some may eventually collide with the Earth.

Photo Stephen Griggs

Most of the particles are deflected away, but some become captured in the Earth’s magnetic field, accelerating down towards the north and south poles into the atmosphere. This is why aurora activity is concentrated at the magnetic poles.

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This most recent display followed  one of the strongest geomagnetic storms for years to hit Earth. The last time an extreme geomagnetic storm hit Earth was in 2003.

Aurora activity is expected again tonight although it will likely not be as evident as last night.

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