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Northern lights are apparently visible in Scotland according to numerous websites. While locations do vary, most seem to say that northern lights are visible pretty much anywhere in the country. What they do not say is how often are they visible.

Suppose I am looking to visit Scotland 6-7 weeks after the fall equinox to coincide with the November new moon, what are the chances that northern lights would be visible some nights from Scotland? I will gladly adjust my location within the country accordingly, if some places are more likely to see this phenomenon.

Thus the question is: How likely is one to see the northern lights in Scotland between the end of October and mid November? Also, where within Scotland would the likelihood be greater?

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    Not to sound like "that guy" but you need to be in the north to see them. Aberdeen, possibly. Glasgow/Edinburgh, never. – Laconic Droid Aug 4 '18 at 23:59
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    Spring and fall have equinoxes, not solstices. – phoog Aug 5 '18 at 0:10
  • @phoog - Sorry, that is what I meant. Corrected. – Itai Aug 5 '18 at 0:38
  • I've seen them in Ripon, North Yorkshire, but very faint down near the horizon. Apparently a common sight. – Michael Harvey Aug 5 '18 at 9:58
  • Please read Northern Lights Scotland – The best way to view them. Remember that Orkney and Shetland are in Scotland too. – Weather Vane Aug 5 '18 at 16:07
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The thing you need to understand is that the Aurora Borealis tends to occur in an oval over the North Pole. Based on how strong is the aurora (KP number), the further south the aurora will be visible.

Take a look at a KP number chart, such as here, you will see that a fairly strong aurora, KP-5, is required to see the aurora in the northernmost UK, while a much weaker KP-2 aurora will be visible in Iceland, where they are fairly common in winter.

This means that auroras in Scotland will be fairly rare and unimpressive. You really need to be as far north as possible and get fairly lucky. You will have much better luck in Iceland or northern Scandinavia.

Last winter, I saw the aurora in Alaska here in the USA. We were in an about comparable viewing situation as Iceland. We were there for 4 nights, which were KP-1 and 2 and we were able to see the aurora only one of those nights. Those same nights, you would have seen nothing in the UK.

  • Interesting about the KP numbers. Is it actually possible to see an Aurora as far down as France? Or is the scale just theoretical? – Itai Aug 5 '18 at 15:59
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    Some of Scandinavia is at the same latitude as Scotland (Copenhagen, for example). – phoog Aug 5 '18 at 16:45
  • During the Carrington event of the 1850s aurora were seen in Cuba and even further south, it's possible to see them in France yes but it's a question of likely hood. Its something that happens one night every several years rather than something you can reliably see. To have a good chance of seeing them go as far north a possible as has already been said. – Sarriesfan Aug 5 '18 at 16:51
  • @phoog Yes, I should have said northern Scandinavia. Edited. Thanks. – DoxyLover Aug 5 '18 at 21:59
  • @Itai aurora borealis has been visible as far south as Florida (~30 N latitude), but it's a once-in-a-lifetime-or-two event. – Jim MacKenzie Aug 5 '18 at 22:26
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Go as far north as possible, to a remote location away from city lights. Wait for a period of strong solar activity and a clear night (neither predictable more than a few days in advance, unfortunately), and expect to see only a faint coloured haze above the horizon. If you want to see the ribbons of light arcing through the sky you need to be north of the Arctic Circle.

  • I've seen ribbons lof light in southern Saskatchewan (lat. 50.5 N where I sit) but it's every few years, not every few weeks. – Jim MacKenzie Aug 5 '18 at 22:25
  • Yeah, I've seen them in Algonquin Park which I believe is south of London. If the Arctic Circle rule is Europe specific it should be clarified. – Kate Gregory Aug 5 '18 at 22:55
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I've spent many years looking at the sky in the UK and never seen even a hint of green on the horizon. Often there's a report of a high KP number but the sky will be overcast. Scottish weather is notoriously prone to cloud

One way you can improve your chances is to take an aurora-spotting flight. These are fairly regular in the UK and fly north of the mainland, above the cloud. One company offering these is Aurora Flights, Omega Breaks also offer them - never been on one so I'd check with Trip Advisor before booking

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