Sky gazers in Europe were in for a surprise when the northern lights turned the night sky red, green, and purple in many countries on Sunday. A solar flare sent a burst of energy from the sun to Earth, prompting a geomagnetic storm that bathed swathes of Russia, Ukraine, Siberia, and the Urals in green, scarlet, and purple overnight, with vivid colors visible as far south as the Netherlands and Scotland. The northern lights—otherwise known as the aurora borealis—are caused when charged particles from the sun reach Earth’s magnetic poles and collide with gases in our atmosphere. The result is a dazzling dance of light that can create arcs, streams, and curtains of color.
The color of the aurora is determined by which gases are excited by the incoming solar wind, with green auroras created by oxygen at lower altitudes, red ones produced by nitrogen higher up in the atmosphere, and violet and purple ones created by a combination of both. The strength of the aurora can also vary, with weaker displays appearing more like a hazy glow of color and stronger ones creating bands of brighter light that appear to arc across the sky.
Photographing the northern lights can be a challenging endeavor for photographers, especially those living farther north than most. While the show is lovely to watch, it’s often difficult to capture due to its erratic nature and elusiveness. That’s why it’s always a good idea to start with the correct settings on your camera. With a little trial and error, you should be well on your way to taking incredible photos of one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular natural wonders.
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The northern lights can be seen in the skies above Alaska, Canada, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Greenland, and the polar regions of Russia, Sweden, and Finland. They’ve also been spotted as far south as northern England and Scotland on rare occasions. The best time to see the northern lights is near the spring and fall equinoxes when the alignment of the Earth’s axis with the sun’s magnetosphere is optimal. During these times, solar winds can penetrate further into the upper atmosphere, producing more vibrant northern light displays.
A beautiful aurora over Salekhard, a city north of the Arctic Circle in Yamal.
The Northern Lights are a fascinating phenomenon that everyone should try to witness at least once. Sadly, the majority of the world’s population is too far south to experience them, and even those who do live up north must battle with harsh winter weather to see them. But those who manage to see them will be rewarded with a breathtaking light show that can only be described as otherworldly.
The northern lights can be challenging to capture on camera, but it’s worth the effort. When shooting the northern lights, it’s essential to get as far away from artificial lighting sources as possible and be as still as possible for the duration of your shot. This means that you’ll need a tripod if you want to avoid blurry images. It’s also a good idea to set your shutter speed at a low setting, such as 10 seconds so that any movement will be captured as just a streak of light in the photo.