The Northern Lights, an impressive display of natural lights, can be witnessed in multiple locations in Ireland and Northern Ireland. While there are no guarantees of witnessing this awe-inspiring phenomenon, the upcoming equinox on September 23rd may increase your chances of experiencing it. David Moore, editor of Astronomy Ireland magazine, explains that during the equinox, the conditions in Earth’s magnetic field and the planet’s tilt can lead to an aurora display. However, it does not guarantee a sighting, only increases the probabilities.
The best places to witness the Northern Lights in Ireland are the rural north coast of Northern Ireland and Mayo due to their proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. The absence of city lights in these regions provides a clearer view of the auroras. However, clear skies are essential for observing the lights, regardless of the location in the country.
The process of the auroras begins with solar flares, eruptions on the sun that release billions of tons of radiation into space. These charged particles hit Earth’s atmosphere around two days later, and some get trapped in Earth’s magnetic field, creating the Northern Lights when they collide with atmospheric gases. The intensity of the lights depends on the activity of the particles, and on rare occasions, it can extend further south than usual.
To maximize the chances of seeing the Northern Lights, it is crucial to get away from artificial lights as they can hinder visibility. Living in a city can limit the visibility of the lights to only major displays. However, places in the countryside without bright lights to the north offer an excellent view of the auroras.
Astronomy Ireland offers an aurora alert service to predict and inform the public about possible sightings. The alerts include information about expected activity in the sky, including the auroras. The Northern Lights can appear at any time during the night, varying in duration from a few hours to the whole night.
Cloud coverage can obstruct the view of the lights, so clear skies are ideal for witnessing this spectacular show. Fortunately, the upcoming years are considered favorable for seeing the Northern Lights as the sun is expected to reach its peak activity level in 2025.
Sources: Astronomy Ireland magazine