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Aurora borealis are rare in the Netherlands. But is it as rare as seeing one in lower latitude countries (like those in the mediterranean)? Is there more probability of seeing an aurora in the Netherlands than in other lower latitude countries (e.g., France or Spain), or is the likelihood roughly the same?

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  • I remember sometime in 2012/2013, where there was a bit of excitement due to aurora borealis being predicted to be visible for one evening in Northern Germany - this supposedly was a very rare occasion, like once in a decade - and while being on the lookout, I didn't spot anything.
    – Erik
    Jul 11 at 15:16
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Depending on where you are within the country it is a 'once in a lifetime' occurance or maybe a 'once in a year' one.

There are locations which have no light polution to the north, good open flat country or sea. In such location it is less unlikely to see the coloured light in the sky, but it is still very rare and I am told never the overwhelming experience it can be more to the north.

I have never seen them, in more than half a century in the Netherlands, my brother who lives in the same village a few times, but he is often about in his car by night, I am not.

As far as I understand your chances of seeing the lights are much more rare in France, only a few locations it is possible at all, no chance further south.

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  • The Netherlands must be close to the southern limit. The aurora is common almost everywhere in Scotland in winter (aside from light pollution issues), occasionally seen in northern England (particularly in Northumberland and Cumbria, which have low population density and low light pollution), but is very rare in southern England.
    – alephzero
    Jul 11 at 10:56
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    Southern England has, like most of the Netherlands and many more countries, limited clear views without light polution or hills to the north. In Scandinavia hills are not a problem but being on the southern end of the range they are of more importance.
    – Willeke
    Jul 11 at 11:00
  • This site has what are alleged to be pictures of auroral displays taken around Leiden in the Netherlands in 1990, 1991, 2000 and 2003. Contains a broken link to another site. Jul 11 at 13:04
  • @Willeke The north coast of Cornwall has a sea horizon with the nearest land (Ireland) 150 miles away. No light pollution there, but no aurorae either. Even going further west along that coastline, There is 50 miles of water before you reach Wales.
    – alephzero
    Jul 11 at 17:27
  • @alephzero, the southern limit for seeing the aurora borealis appears to be about ten degrees off the magnetic equator. Aurora have been seen that far south just once, during the Carrington event.
    – Mark
    Jul 11 at 20:14
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I have never been to Netherlands and thus cannot share any first-hand experience; however, I know about multiple reports and photos of aurorae seen from Slovakia and Hungary in the last few years. The countries have different topography but are not too far away from Netherlands.

There are at least three important factors that need to be considered:

  1. Geographic latitude, or more precisely, distance from the magnetic north pole. Slovakia is at 49° N while the northernmost extremities of Netherlands are close to 53.5° N. This is some 400 kilometres closer to the geographic north pole. As the north magnetic pole is currently in northern Canada, the difference is actually closer to 800 kilometres, which is definitely a significant advantage for Netherlands.

  2. Light pollution, which is much worse in flat and densely populated Netherlands than in rural and mountainous Slovakia. Also the proximity to the ocean means higher humidity, which results in worse observation conditions on average.

  3. Altitude. In Slovakia, virtually all aurora sightings were reported from high mountains (1500-2500 metres), where the air is clearer and northern horizon is more readily observable. From flat Netherlands it would be certainly more difficult to see.

Considering all this I'd say Netherlands has a very slight advantage. Extrapolating further south:

  • Northern France is not far away from Netherlands, it is also flat and light-polluted. Basically the same arguments apply and aurora sighting frequency should be comparable, maybe slightly lower.
  • Southern France is much further from the magnetic north pole but has the advantage of very high mountains and lower light pollution. The frequency of aurora sightings should be slightly lower for high-altitude sites but definitely much lower at low altitudes.
  • Spain is even further out to the south, but rural areas are at relatively high altitudes and light pollution is low. A quick search of the internet reveals aurorae have already been observed from Spain, but seem to be very rare.
  • In southern Spain, aurorae are extremely rare, but probably still possible during times of exceptional solar activity.
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    For the record, the distance from the magnetic pole is (roughly) given by geomagnetic latitude rather than geographic latitude. Jul 11 at 13:18
  • Martin Baláž, while on a world scale Sovakia may not be that far from the Netherlands, it is still about 1600 km and it is a really different country. And as the chances on seeing the Aurora are low, very few people will be out and aware one is coming, so sighting will be even lower.
    – Willeke
    Jul 12 at 15:42
  • That's true and fits your claim of a "once a year event". Aurorae have been spotted multiple times from both Slovakia and Netherlands and the frequency seems to be about the same (which of course includes the selection bias you mentioned, but I suppose that in any country there are a couple of photographers hunting for these events specifically). I suppose in case of a solar eruption on the level of the Carrington event it could be visible from both countries easily, and probably from Spain as well. Jul 16 at 12:09

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