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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Greatest show on Earth comes to a sky near you

Brian Hutton

Published 09/01/2012 | 05:00

The Northern Lights in Ballyliffin, Inishowen, Co DonegaI
The Northern Lights in Ballyliffin, Inishowen, Co DonegaI
A woman watches the Aurora Borealis in Alaska

One of the world's most famous and stunning solar phenomena is eagerly expected over Irish skies in the coming weeks, stargazers have said.

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The Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, has its best chance of being seen in more than a decade because of a peak in the sun's activity.

The celestial light show appears as ghostly, wispy rays of colours dancing across the night sky.

Brendan Alexander, an astronomer in Co Donegal, said the further north and away from city lights people are, the better chance they have of seeing the dream-like spectacular.

"It's definitely worth seeking out," he said. "It's an event that -- especially on these shores -- is so rare.

"When you are watching the display, it's very eerie, almost alien. It's like nothing you have seen before," he added.

The sun has a "heartbeat" every 11 years or so -- known as the solar cycle -- and when it erupts charged particles blast into space and are sucked into the North Pole.

These explosions react with the earth's atmosphere, sparking great swathes of coloured light.

The long, clear darkness of winter is among the most likely times to see it and astronomers believe the sun will hit the peak of its cycle again in the coming year.

Between now and the equinox in March is being tipped as the best opportunity in Ireland for more than ten years.

When he last saw it, Donegal-based photographer Mark Nolan captured the phenomenon over Malin Head -- Ireland's most northerly point -- from Pollan Beach in Ballyliffin.

"The excitement I felt when I arrived on the beach and saw the photos on the camera display cannot be described," said the father of three.

Irish Independent

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