The northern lights are a common site in Alaska [GALLO/GETTY]

The northern lights made a rare appearance across northern parts of the United Kingdom at the weekend. Sightings were reported as far south as Northern Ireland and the Pennines in England. Europe and North America will also have been witness to the display.

The northern lights, or aurora borealis to give them their correct name, result from the interaction of charged particles, blown from the Sun on the solar wind, and the gases in the upper part of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Reds and greens are the most commonly observed colours in what may be static or moving displays. They can last from just a few seconds to several hours.

The name derives from aurora – the Roman goddess of the dawn and borealis - the Greek name for the north wind.
The southern limit of the aurora is usually within 10 to 20 degrees of the North Pole. That the weekend’s display should be seen another 10 to 15 degrees south is due to a solar storm, stronger than any since May 2005.

The strength of the solar storm is causing scientists some concern as communications satellites may be affected by the charged particles. So, too, could the communications systems aboard aircraft overflying the polar region.

The strength of the storm is expected to decline by Wednesday but that still presents the possibility of further observations (cloud-free skies permitting) from locations not normally able to view one of the wonders of nature.

Source: Al Jazeera