North Yorkshire: top tips for spotting Northern Lights

North Yorkshire: top tips for spotting Northern Lights


The Northern Lights, or aurora as they are also known, most recently lit up the sky in North Yorkshire last week on February 27.

Nicole Carr, who runs Scarborough based astronomy/astrophotography business Astro Dog with her partner, Simon Scott, is regularly on the lookout for these displays.

She has been a dedicated ‘aurora hunter’ for eight years.

The couple, who live in Scarborough, travel to the Yorkshire coast in search of the aurora joined by their trusted dog, Luna.

Fascinated by space and night sky

Nicole said she has always had a fascination with space.

“For as long as I remember, I’ve been trying to capture photographs of the moon and night sky,” she said.

Nicole first spotted the aurora in 2015 from Scalby Mills cliffs, in Scarborough.

York Press: The first aurora Nicole seen in 2015 from Scalby Mills cliffs, in ScarboroughThe first aurora Nicole seen in 2015 from Scalby Mills cliffs, in Scarborough (Image: Astro Dog)

“For so long it had been a dream of mine to witness the aurora, and I would have never thought I’d be able to see those beautiful lights dancing in the night sky, let alone above the shores of our hometown, Scarborough, which made it all the more special,” she said.

“It was a truly exciting, memorable and magical experience – and an absolutely incredible sight to behold.”

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Now, Astro Dog regularly hosts stargazing experiences in Dalby Forrest.

York Press: The Milkyway captured by Nicole from Flamborough The Milkyway captured by Nicole from Flamborough (Image: Astro Dog)

These events include guided tours, and the chance for visitors to use the team’s telescopes for a closer look at the night sky.

There is also an immersive 360 degree planetarium dome used to teach guests about the history of astronomy.

How do aurora displays happen?

Nicole explained that aurora displays happen when the sun releases streams of charged particles known as ‘solar wind’, which interact with the Earth’s magnetic field and different elements in its atmosphere.

During this interaction, the charged particles meet gases in our atmosphere, energise them, and cause them to emit photons of light.

Nicole said seeing the aurora as south as North Yorkshire is a rare event, with the chances growing even thinner the further south you go – but she added that many people would be surprised at how often they can be seen in the county.

Her favourite locations to catch the displays include Scalby Mills cliffs, Scarborough; the cliffs in Burniston Nab, Scarborough; and the coastal areas around Whitby.

Top tips for catching the aurora

Nicole shared some of her top tips for catching the aurora.

1. Look out for a clear sky and find a good view

Firstly, she said you need clear skies (or at least partially clear skies) to the north to be able to see the aurora.

Although, this is not a guarantee as the aurora has been seen when the sky is cloudy between gaps.

“Perseverance can pay on cloudy nights,” said Nicole.

She added that you also need to find a good view of the northern horizon with as little light pollution as possible to compliment this.

2. Let your eyes adjust

An important step is letting your eyes adjust to the darkness so you can see the displays.

York Press: The aurora on September 27 in Scarborough The aurora on September 27 in Scarborough (Image: Astro Dog)

Nicole said you can adjust your eyes to the night sky by not looking at any source of light for around 15-20 minutes.

3. Bring a camera (your phone will do)

Even if you can’t see the aurora after adjusting your eyes, a camera can reveal the lights when they are active.

Camera sensors are much more sensitive to the low light, with even a phone camera able to capture the displays.

York Press: The aurora captured on Nicole's mobile phoneThe aurora captured on Nicole’s mobile phone (Image: Astro Dog)

They can also capture light over extended periods of time with long exposure times, which is typically the way most professional images of the aurora are taken.

4. Monitor solar activity

For a heads up on when displays are likely to occur, Nicole said it’s important to monitor social activity.

You can monitor solar activity and satellites using apps, but Nicole said the information can be difficult to understand at first.

York Press: The andromeda galaxy taken by NicoleThe andromeda galaxy taken by Nicole (Image: Astro Dog)

Given this, Astro Dog issues ‘aurora alerts’ from its Facebook page.

“We always do our best to try and help people understand the Northern Lights and alert people if the Aurora is visible in Scarborough,” she said.

5. Wrap up warm!

When chasing the aurora, you might be in for a long wait so it’s important to wrap up warm.

Nicole said it took six hours for her to capture the aurora display on February 27 from Scarborough, so you need to be prepared to stay outside for long enough to catch a show.

More information about Astro Dog can be found at: