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SNH launch northern lights search

The Aurora over Tankerness.

It might be cold, dark and frosty out but one of the great things about this time of year is the chance to see one of our amazing natural phenomena, the northern lights.

And it’s easier to see them than you might think. Wherever you are in Scotland – all you need is a clear night, a dark place to watch and a dose of good luck!

Scottish Natural Heritage are currently running a competition to find the best image of the lights, with budding photographers in with the chance of winning a 2019 Scottish Natural Heritage calendar.

Jonathan Swale, who works on Shetland for Scottish Natural Heritage, is a keen watcher of the aurora borealis.

“The winter months are the best time of year to see the northern lights and the best time is a couple of hours either side of midnight,” he said.

“This amazing spectacle is caused by charged particles from the sun colliding with gas particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. This produces the wonderful patterns of dancing light that we see in the sky.”

According to Mr Swale, the colour of the northern lights varies depending on the type of gas particles that are colliding. Most common is a pale yellowish green, produced by oxygen particles about 60 miles above the earth. Nitrogen gives out blue or purplish-red light, and the rare, all-red auroras are down to high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles.

“The top places to see these magical light shows are areas free from light pollution,” Mr Swale continued.

“You need absolutely clear skies with no clouds and your best bet is to stand somewhere where you have a view of the northern horizon. While they have been seen as far south as Kent and Cornwall, you have much greater chance of seeing them here in Scotland if the conditions are right, as they get stronger the further north you go.“

“And if you don’t get lucky and see the northern lights, you will get a fantastic view of the night sky, peppered with stars.”

To find out more about the SNH competition, you can follow their social media channels on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

For aurora alerts and forecasts, try the AuroraWatch UK, Service Aurora Forecast or the Glendale app.

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