The Magic of the Northern Lights: Where and When to Catch the Spectacular Display in Ireland

The beauty of the northern lights, a mesmerizing natural light show, can be witnessed in multiple locations across Ireland and Northern Ireland. While there is no guarantee of seeing this stunning phenomenon, the upcoming equinox on September 23 may increase your chances of experiencing it. David Moore, editor of Astronomy Ireland magazine, explains that during the equinox, the conditions in the Earth’s magnetic field and the tilt of the planet can lead to a display of the aurora. However, it does not guarantee a sighting; it only increases the likelihood.

The best locations 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 town lights in these regions provides a clearer view of the aurora. However, clear skies are essential for spotting the lights, regardless of the location in the country.

The aurora process starts with solar flares, eruptions on the sun that release billions of tons of radiation into space. These charged particles hit the Earth’s atmosphere around two days later and some get caught in the 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 can extend further south than usual on rare occasions.

To maximize your chances of seeing the northern lights, it is crucial to be away from man-made lights, as they can obscure the view. Living in a town or city may limit the visibility of the lights to major displays only. However, locations in the countryside with no bright lights to the north offer a great view of the aurora.

Astronomy Ireland provides an aurora alert service to predict and inform the public about potential sightings. The alerts include information about the expected activity in the sky, including the aurora. The northern lights can appear at any time of the night, varying in duration from a few hours to the entire night.

Cloud cover can obstruct the view of the lights, so clear skies are ideal for witnessing this spectacular display. Fortunately, the next few years are considered favorable for seeing the northern lights, as the sun is expected to reach its peak activity in 2025.

Sources: Astronomy Ireland magazine