Saturday 11 May 2024

The Northern Lights over the Fylde Coast

The northern lights shimmering over Mary's Shell on Cleveleys beach at midnight on 10th May
Not a tram or a bus in sight but something MUCH rarer, illuminations, no not the man-made sort, but one of the wonders of the natural world. I thought that the rarity of this unusual local occurence warranted posting the photos on here (they're best viewed in lower light conditions). Due to a recent period of intense solar activity on the sun, a series of unusually strong coronal mass ejections (eruptions of plasma and magnetic energy) were directed towards the Earth, and arrived in our atmosphere on the evening of 10th/11th May. The charged particles emitted from the sun collide with gases in the upper Earth's atmosphere, typically oxygen and nitrogen, generating geomagnetic storms which create vibrant displays of colour in the sky. These dazzling light displays are known as the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, and are usually only visible from higher latitudes, such as Iceland, Norway and Scotland. The colours are caused by the solar wind colliding with gas particles high in the atmosphere, with oxygen generating green light and nitrogen blue or purple light, all this takes place 50 to 200 miles up in the atmosphere. The recent sun spot plasma eruptions generated an S5 solar radiation storm, which is the maximum on the S1 to S5 scale for measuring solar storms, creating the best display of the northern lights seen in over 20 years. This unusually strong solar activity meant that the Aurora Borealis was visibile in many parts of the world where it would normally not be seen, usually being restricted to northern latitudes. These photos were taken from Fleetwood and Cleveleys beaches between 11pm and midnight on 10th May (the colours can best be seen away from bright daylight).

The aurora over Fleetwood radar station and the lower lighthouse which was built in 1840
The aurora from Fleetwood beach looking over the River Wyre towards Knott End
The view from Fleetwood beach looking towards the former radar training station, built 1961
The northern lights over the lower lighthouse viewed from Fleetwood beach
The aurora borealis in the western sky looking towards the Marine Hall at Fleetwood
The colour displays of the aurora dancing across the moon over Cleveleys sea front


  1. Absolutely brilliant photography Alan. We did not see them at all in Thornton.
    Well done!

    1. Thank you Michael, I had to take a very quick course on night photography from the camera's instruction manual, it's the first time that I've taken any night shots of the sky. The time exposure was just guess work (on a tripod), but the hardest part was finding out how to focus my compact camera on blank sky in virtually pitch dark! Fortunately the photos were in focus, which is the most important factor. They don't seem to be too well received on here, but there again they aren't photos of trams or buses, so it's to be expected! I've avoided oversaturating the photos, like a lot of the shots that I've seen posted, too make them appear more natural. The aurora was fairly faint and indistinct when viewed with the naked eye.

  2. Fabulous photographs, many thanks for taking them, posting them and for putting in all the effort that undoubtedly was involved. It is a magnificent sight on a screen, I only wish I had seen it in person.

    1. Thanks, it was a bit of a gamble as I'd never taken night shots of the sky before, so I was worried that focussing on nothing might be a problem, fortunately it worked out ok. They look a lot better in photos than in real life (the camera is more sensitive to the colours), in fact I was struggling to even see where they were at first, but after a while your eye got trained to spotting them.