It’s a sight that has caused excitement, awe, joy and even fear over the centuries – the brilliant multi-coloured Northern Lights that occasionally illuminate the dark skies of the Northern Hemisphere.
A major tourist industry has become established in recent years, taking people to the dark wildernesses in Iceland and Scandinavia to hunt for the lights.
But the truth is that Scotland is far north enough to offer a decent chance to see the aurora borealis, and has plenty of locations where the skies are dark enough for the lights to shine. Indeed, last year they were visible across the country on a number of occasion.
And even if you don't see them, there are always the endless constellations of stars, planets and satellites to gaze at in wonder.
Here’s what you need to know, followed by the best places in Scotland to see them.
The moving patterns of green, blue, purple and red are caused by solar storms on the surface of the sun, which create clouds of electrically charged particles that are forcefully expelled.
Some of these particles collide with the Earth, with some becoming caught in the planet’s magnetic field, where they are attracted to the north and south poles.
This collection of particles collide with atoms and molecules already present in the atmosphere, heating them up and causing them to glow – creating the Northern Lights.
The closer you are to the North Pole, the higher your chance of seeing them, hence the popularity of places like Iceland for aurora hunters.
However most of Scotland in the zone where they are – in theory – regularly visible. The further north you go, the more likely they are to appear. If you live in Aberdeen or Inverness, the chances are you will have seen them at some point.
Whenever it’s dark! Autumn, winter and spring in Scotland will give you plenty of chances to see the Northern Lights, but in the summer months the sky seldom gets dark enough to see the phenomenon.
Long cold nights and clear skies provide the perfect conditions.
Of course you need to be lucky, but a regular check of the Aurora Watch website, which measures the amount of solar activity each day, will let you know when it’s worth heading out to try your luck. If you get a red warning then hop in the car and drive somewhere dark.
Here are 10 of the best places in Scotland to go aurora hunting.
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