8:30am Saturday 1st March 2014
By Dan Robinson
PEOPLE in Oxfordshire were treated to a once-in-a-decade spectacle as the Northern Lights glistened across the county’s skies.
The green, blue and red natural lights – known as the Aurora Borealis and normally only visible in Scandinavia – were seen on Thursday night.
Astronomy photographer Mary Spicer, 41, from Tackley, captured the display from a field behind her house – staying up well into the early hours to see the lights.
She said: “I felt quite emotional. I’ve only ever seen them once before. To actually see it made me choke up.
“I couldn’t believe it was this far south. It was amazing and beautiful.”
Mrs Spicer had been taking photographs of new stars forming in her back garden through a telescope when she noticed a red light in the sky.
She did not think anything of it until her husband Mark McIntyre texted her saying there had been reported sightings of the Northern Lights in the South.
She took her equipment to a sloped field next to her home to get a better view. The display lasted for about an hour from 8.45pm.
Mrs Spicer said: “It’s always more visible on photographs than it is to the naked eye. It’s more of a grey-green rather than the vivid colour you see in pictures.”
Oxford University astrophysics researcher Robert Simpson, 32, who was among those who missed the lights, said: “I’ve been told this display was the brightest in about 20 years.
“It’s a once-in-a-decade event so it’s a bit gutting to have missed it. There were a lot of sad faces around our office yesterday morning.
“We were very lucky that there were clear skies because it made a big difference in allowing people to actually see it.”
The science behind the sight
A massive burst of solar wind meant it was pushed far enough south to be seen in Oxfordshire.
Astrophysics researcher Robert Simpson said: “We’re very far away from the sun but we’re still in its atmosphere, so our magnetic fields interact with the magnetic fields of the sun. The other day there was a massive burst of solar wind where the sun releases charged particles, which happened to come in our direction.”
The green lights come from oxygen glowing in the sun’s energy, which creates red and blue lights when mixed with nitrogen.
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