Northern Lights: Magical sights high above NI sky

Picture of Aurora Borealis taken by Martin McKenna. This picture of the Aurora Borealis was taken by Martin McKenna on the Glenshane Pass in the early hours of Tuesday morning

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For stargazers and skywatchers in Northern Ireland, the past week has provided much manna from heaven.

At a time of year when many evenings shed about as much light as an evasive spin doctor, the Aurora Borealis has been casting its spectacular celestial glow over large parts of the countryside.

The natural light phenomenon, also known as the Northern Lights, is usually seen in polar areas but is providing a welcome interruption to Northern Ireland's February gloom.

And while its appearance and its name are poetic, the reasons for the phenomenon are distinctly prosaic.

Electrically charged particles emitted from the sun during sunspot activity collide with atoms in the earth's atmosphere, causing those atoms to emit the characteristic light, usually red or green.

Astronomer John McFarland from the Armagh Observatory explained that once educated about where to look, people are often surprised how often the light can be seen.

His tip, perhaps predictably enough, is to focus on the northern half of the sky.

Weather conditions

One of BBC Newsline's weather followers, Martin McKenna, captured a beautiful example while out in the Glenshane Pass on Tuesday morning.

BBC NI weather presenter Cecilia Daly said what could be seen clearly would depend on weather conditions.

"Ideally you need a clear, cold night away from the city out in the countryside," she said.

"Skies will be clear at least for a time on Wednesday night before cloud increases from the south.

"The best place to view the northern lights would be in the northern counties, especially Antrim and Londonderry, where skies will be clearest."

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