Northern Lights Aurora Borealis

in Mull

Autumn and winter is a great time to visit Mull – the wildlife is still spectacular and you might also glimpse the Northern Lights.

Life-long Mull fans and Traigh Mhor regulars Jenny and Mike Gossage, from Bristol, sent us this  photo – right – of the Northern Lights, captured during their stay at the cottage one October.

Fresh from an astonomy Star Camp in Hexham, Northumberland, they headed on up to Mull for a week to continue their sky gazing. Incredibly, they saw the lights from the kitchen window of the cottage without a telescope.

They then captured this image and sent us this wonderful souvenir. The pic above has been cropped to fit our header design.

“They did only appear for one night, from around 9pm,” said Jenny. “At first it just looked like a pale sea mist but it was only in the one patch of sky and didn’t move at all. Then the `lights’ started moving – the nearest more normal thing it was like is when there are searchlights pointed into the sky, so columns of light pointing upwards, moving quite quickly left to right.

“The photo does make it look more intense and coloured than could be seen with the naked eye due to the 30 second exposure – you could see vague tinges of green but not much more, it was very exciting though.“

What are they?

The Northern Lights are a spectacular visual phenomenon which occur when particles from the sun interact with the Earth’s atmosphere. These charged particles collide with air molecules and their energy is emitted as light.

When and Where to Look:

The skies of Northern Scotland often light up with the Northern Lights from Autumn through to Spring. And the auroras are clearly visible because there is so little light pollution.

The Hebrides, including Mull, offer good star-gazing and aurora borealis viewing opportunities as Atlantic winds ensure relatively clear skies on crisp winter nights.

North is the normal direction but check all directions. Experts say the best time to look is the hours either side of midnight, when the skies are darkest.

Displays may last only a few minutes and will often repeat many times during a night, so keep watching, even if the aurora goes quiet. Very big storms will run for a couple of days, so check the night after a display as you may see more results.

More info:

Aurora Watch, a website run by the Department of Physics at Lancaster University, says the phenomenon is associated with geomagnetic activity, and occurrs mainly in the high-latitude night sky between 100-250 km above ground.

Future dates:

AuroraWatch has lots of information on the phenomenon and also allows you to monitor geomagnetic activity and find out where and when auroras may be visible in the UK. Follow on facebook or via Twitter.

DIY forecasting:

If you were brought up on Blue Peter or like a DIY challenge, the website also has instructions on how to make an Aurora Detector – including one from an old fizzy drinks bottle!