Scotland is a fantastic destination for stargazers looking to catch a glimpse of the often illusive Northern Lights. With a number of ideal locations for viewing, including two Dark Sky Parks and the Dark Sky island of Coll, Scotland offers a myriad of excellent opportunities to turn your eyes to the night sky.
What Causes the Northern Lights?
Named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for north wind, Boreas, the incredible spectacle that is the Aurora Borealis is caused by charged particles accelerated into the upper atmosphere of Earth along the magnetic field lines. The energy that causes this display comes from the sun’s solar wind, generated from millions of miles away.
Why Does Aurora Borealis Appear in Different Colours?
The Northern Lights can manifest itself in an array of colours and patterns, setting the night sky aglow. Variations in colour are due to different types of gas particles colliding in the atmosphere, here’s a quick guide to why you see certain colours:
- Red – we don’t see this colour in The Northern Lights very often, it is usually associated with intense solar activity. The reds appear when solar particles interact with oxygen at the higher altitudes, generally higher than 150 miles.
- Yellow & Pink – a very rare occurrence that is associated with very high solar activity because they are a mixture of red with green or blue.
- Green Shades – most commonly seen as solar particles generally collide with the Earth’s atmosphere at between 60 and 105 miles from the surface where there are high concentrations of oxygen. When the oxygen at this level becomes ‘excited’ it makes the Aurora appear green. The human eye is also highly tuned to detect shades of green, contributing to this being the most commonly seen Aurora colour.
- Blue/Purple – these less commonly seen colours usually appear when solar activity is high and solar particles are in our atmosphere below an altitude of 60 miles. At this height the reaction is with nitrogen, causing the blue or purple colours.
Where Can I See The Northern Lights?
Sightings naturally become more likely the further you travel north but can be seen anywhere when conditions are right and light pollution is at a minimum. As Scotland for the majority is largely unpopulated in relation to say England, there is a greater chance of seeing these lights with hills and glens often providing a shield against light population.
Top Locations in Scotland to See Aurora Borealis:
- Coll – Dark Sky Island
- Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park
- Tomintoul and Glenlivet Dark Sky Park
- The Northern Isles – Orkney & Shetland
- Caithness – North-East Scotland
- Outer Hebrides – Lewis, Harris and Uist
- Isle of Skye
We’ve listed just a few possible options, there are countless locations across Scotland where stargazing is excellent. Finding a remote spot, far from the light pollution of towns and cities and setting up camp for the night is another popular approach.
When is Best to See The Northern Lights?
The Aurora Borealis is most commonly seen during the Autumn and Winter months when the nights are longer and cloudless skies are more likely.
The most common time for Aurora Borealis to occur is either late at night or early in the morning while there is little to no sunlight and the sky is very much still dark. Ideally, you need to be in a location with as little light pollution as possible.
To fully appreciate the lights, the sky must be relatively cloudless. This is because clouds may interfere with a person experience, covering the natural light show and disrupting the view of a spectator.
Clear Northern Skies
If you are lucky enough to witness the lights, looking north will most likely provide you with the first view -as that’s where the lights will originate from before they become strong enough to see above you.
Motorhome Hire to Experience the Aurora Borealis
Search for the perfect spot to view the Aurora Borealis in the comfort of a luxury motorhome, complete with beds, a bathroom, air conditioning, kitchen unit and entertainment system among other utilities. To find out more about the vehicles we have on offer visit our motorhomes for hire page, or contact us to discuss your trip.