Pictures of the Aurora

Images of the Northern Lights are a sight to behold, but what causes the aurora? Discover the science and beautiful images of Earth's spectacular light show.

Aurora with planet Venus in North Finland by Richard Jenkinson, Nellim, Finland.

The aurora borealis, or the ‘Northern Lights’, is one of the most fabulous natural phenomena that can be seen on Earth: green, purple and pink wisps filling the sky creating an ethereal glow that really has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Advertisement

The aurora is produced by a stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun – known as the solar wind – hitting Earth’s atmosphere, where it strikes gas atoms and molecules – mostly oxygen and nitrogen – ionising them and producing a spectacular natural light show.

The aurora borealis is mostly seen in far northern climes, but it is possible to see the aurora from the UK given the right conditions: particularly in the north of Scotland.

For alerts as to when an auroral display could be imminent, follow Aurora Watch.

Northern Lights in Iceland by John Wheeldon, Myvatn, North East Iceland.
Northern Lights in Iceland by John Wheeldon, Myvatn, North East Iceland. Equipment: Canon Eos 7d, Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 lens

What causes different shapes and colours in the aurora?

The intensity of the solar wind and the stability of Earth’s magnetic field both play a part in the strength and motion of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.

Auroral displays can vary significantly in shape and colour. Most commonly, the aurora appears green, a colour given off by oxygen at altitudes 100-150km above Earth.

Oxygen does have another excited state in which it can release a red hue, but this occurs much higher up at altitudes of about 200-250km.

Aurora over Finland by Antony Pedley, Inari, Finland. Equipment: Canon EOS 450D, EF 10-22mm lens
Aurora over Finland by Antony Pedley, Inari, Finland. Equipment: Canon EOS 450D, EF 10-22mm lens

Blue, violet and pink colours are released by nitrogen molecules. Nitrogen also emits turquoise-green and hydrogen gives out a pink-hued crimson.

Below is a selection of pictures of the aurora borealis captured by astrophotographers and readers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

For more on the Northern Lights, read our guide to the science of the aurora and our tutorial on how to photograph the aurora.

Advertisement

If you do manage to capture a beautiful picture of the Northern Lights, don’t forget to send us your images. You can also share them with us via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Aurora over Thurso Castle by Gordon Mackie, Thurso, Caithness, UK.
Aurora over Thurso Castle by Gordon Mackie, Thurso, Caithness, UK. Equipment: Tripod mounted Olympus E420 DSLR.
Northern Lights in Iceland by Michael Jones, Devon, UK.
Northern Lights in Iceland by Michael Jones, Devon, UK. Equipment: Pentax *ist DS, 20 second exposure at f3.5 and ISO 400.
Northern Lights over Iceland by Tom Howard, Borgarnes, Iceland.
Northern Lights over Iceland by Tom Howard, Borgarnes, Iceland. Equipment: Tripod mounted Nikon D7000. Nikkor 18-200mm lens, set to 18mm focal length.
Aurora Australis by Paul Albers, Flinders, Victoria, Australia. Equipment: Pentax K-x, 18mm F~3.5, Tripod mount.
Aurora Australis by Paul Albers, Flinders, Victoria, Australia. Equipment: Pentax K-x, 18mm F~3.5, Tripod mount.
Aurora Borealis over Wick by Maciej Winiarczyk, Wick, Scotland.
Aurora Borealis over Wick by Maciej Winiarczyk, Wick, Scotland. Equipment: Canon 1000D with 18-55mm kit lens
6 Hours of unexpected Aurora by Neil Billingham, Kakslauttanen Glass Igloo Village, Finland.
6 Hours of unexpected Aurora by Neil Billingham, Kakslauttanen Glass Igloo Village, Finland. Equipment: Canon 450D, Tripod.
Aurora Over Iceland by Stuart Woodall, Hali, Iceland.
Aurora Over Iceland by Stuart Woodall, Hali, Iceland. Equipment: Canon EOS 550D
Aurora over Illulisaat by Antony Pedley, Western Greenland.
Aurora over Illulisaat by Antony Pedley, Western Greenland. Equipment: Canon DSLR.
Aurora at North Inari by Premjith Narayanan, Laplands, Finland. Equipment: Canon 7D, Nikon lens 14-24mm F 2.8, Tripod.
Aurora at North Inari by Premjith Narayanan, Laplands, Finland. Equipment: Canon 7D, Nikon lens 14-24mm F 2.8, Tripod.
Aurora over Hotel Ranga by James Daniels, Iceland. Equipment: Nikon D40 Samyang 14mm lens
Aurora over Hotel Ranga by James Daniels, Iceland. Equipment: Nikon D40 Samyang 14mm lens
Aurora over Tromsø by James Daniels, Tromsø, Norway.
Aurora over Tromsø by James Daniels, Tromsø, Norway. Equipment: Nikon D40 with 18-55 lens
Northern Lights by Trevor Nurse, Iceland. Equipment: Canon 50D, 28-200mm lens.
Northern Lights by Trevor Nurse, Iceland. Equipment: Canon 50D, 28-200mm lens.
Aurora over the Solway Firth Whitehaven Cumbria by Adrian Strand, Whitehaven Cumbria. Equipment: Nikon D5100, 18-55mm lens
Aurora over the Solway Firth Whitehaven Cumbria by Adrian Strand, Whitehaven Cumbria. Equipment: Nikon D5100, 18-55mm lens
Auroral Arc over the Solway Firth Cumbria by Adrian Strand, Whitehaven Cumbria.
Auroral Arc over the Solway Firth Cumbria by Adrian Strand, Whitehaven Cumbria. Equipment: Nikon D5100, 18-55mm lens.
Aurora over the Solway Firth from Whitehaven Cumbria by Adrian Strand, Whitehaven Cumbria.
Aurora over the Solway Firth from Whitehaven Cumbria by Adrian Strand, Whitehaven Cumbria. Equipment: Nikon D5100, 18-55mm lens.
Tromso City Lights by Steve H, UK.
Tromso City Lights by Steve H, UK. Equipment: Canon 60D, 28mm lens
Aurora over Finland by Antony Pedley, Inari, Finland.
Aurora over Finland by Antony Pedley, Inari, Finland. Equipment: Canon EOS 450D, EF 10-22mm lens
Icelandic Aurora by Pete Charles, Hella, Iceland.
Icelandic Aurora by Pete Charles, Hella, Iceland. Equipment: Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ1.
Aurora Panorama by William Hughes, Doncaster, UK.
Aurora Panorama by William Hughes, Doncaster, UK. Equipment: Canon EOS 600D, Samyang 14mm lens.
Colorful Aurora Borealis and Milky Way by Bas van Beek, Abisko National Park, Sweden.
Colorful Aurora Borealis and Milky Way by Bas van Beek, Abisko National Park, Sweden. Equipment: Canon 350D, 18-50 mm lens.
Polar Fox Aurora Borealis by Bas van Beek, Abisko National Park, Sweden.
Polar Fox Aurora Borealis by Bas van Beek, Abisko National Park, Sweden. Equipment: Canon 350D, 14mm F2.8 Canon USM.
Green Swirl by Kelly Barnard, Norway.
Green Swirl by Kelly Barnard, Norway. Equipment: Canon EOS 400D, 18mm lens.
Northern Lights at Sea by Geoff Glasgow, Alta, Norway.
Northern Lights at Sea by Geoff Glasgow, Alta, Norway. Equipment: Canon EOS 1000D, EFS 18-55mm lens, tripod.
Aurora by Tony Pedley, Alta, Norway.
Aurora by Tony Pedley, Alta, Norway. Equipment: Canon EOS 450D
Aurora by Tony Pedley, Alta, Norway.
Aurora by Tony Pedley, Alta, Norway. Equipment: Canon EOS 450D
Aurora by Tony Pedley, Alta, Norway.
Aurora by Tony Pedley, Alta, Norway. Equipment: Canon EOS 450D
Flaming Tree by Marketa S Murray, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Flaming Tree by Marketa S Murray, Fairbanks, Alaska. Equipment: Canon: 5D markII, 17-40mm
Aurora and the Pleiades by Neil Levesley, Caithness, UK.
Aurora and the Pleiades by Neil Levesley, Caithness, UK. Equipment: Canon 60Da DSLR.
Aurora in Aires by Neil Levesley, Caithness, UK.
Aurora in Aires by Neil Levesley, Caithness, UK. Equipment: Canon 60Da DSLR
Close up Aurora by Dan Bartley, Abisko, Sweden.
Close up Aurora by Dan Bartley, Abisko, Sweden. Equipment: Nikon D3200
Aurora Heart by Dan Bartley, Abisko, Sweden.
Aurora Heart by Dan Bartley, Abisko, Sweden. Equipment: Canon 600d
Aurora Eruption by Dan Bartley, Abisko, Sweden.
Aurora Eruption by Dan Bartley, Abisko, Sweden. Equipment: Nikon D3200
Aurora borealis full sky eruption #2 by Olli Reijonen, Vesivehmaa Airfield, Asikkala, Finland.
Aurora borealis full sky eruption #2 by Olli Reijonen, Vesivehmaa Airfield, Asikkala, Finland. Equipment: Olympus OMD E-M5, Samyang 7,5mm
Aurora borealis full sky eruption by Olli Reijonen, Vesivehmaa Airfield, Asikkala, Finland.
Aurora borealis full sky eruption by Olli Reijonen, Vesivehmaa Airfield, Asikkala, Finland. Equipment: Olympus OMD E-M5, Samyang 7,5mm
Aurora Borealis Iceland 17th March 2015 by Rod Jenkins, Iceland.
Aurora Borealis Iceland 17th March 2015 by Rod Jenkins, Iceland. Equipment: Canon 70D EFS 10-22mm lens
Aurora Coronae Iceland 17th March 2015 by Rod Jenkins, Iceland.
Aurora Coronae Iceland 17th March 2015 by Rod Jenkins, Iceland. Equipment: Canon 70D EFS 10-22mm lens
Firebird above the Eagle Hill by Olli Reijonen, Eagle Hill, Kaavi, Finland.
Firebird above the Eagle Hill by Olli Reijonen, Eagle Hill, Kaavi, Finland. Equipment: Olympus OMD E-M5, Samyang 7,6mm f3,5, tripod.
Tourists experiencing the Aurora by Mike Morley, Abisko, Sweden.
Tourists experiencing the Aurora by Mike Morley, Abisko, Sweden. Equipment: Canon 6D, 24-70mm lens.
UK corona aurora by Stewart Watt, Thurso, Caithness, Scotland.
UK corona aurora by Stewart Watt, Thurso, Caithness, Scotland. Equipment: Canon 5DMK3 and Sigma 15mm fisheye lens.
Aurora Borealis by Melissa Southward, Askam-in-Furness, Cumbria, UK.
Aurora Borealis by Melissa Southward, Askam-in-Furness, Cumbria, UK. Equipment: Nikon D3, 16mm lens.
Kielder Aurora by Alison Bossaert, Kielder Star Camp, Sunderland, UK.
Kielder Aurora by Alison Bossaert, Kielder Star Camp, Sunderland, UK. Equipment: Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR camera
Aurora over Durness Cairn by Andy Walker, Durness, UK.
Aurora over Durness Cairn by Andy Walker, Durness, UK. Equipment: Canon 70D, Sigma 15-30mm EX DG HSM lens.
Aurora Borealis by Andy Walker, Durness, UK.
Aurora Borealis by Andy Walker, Durness, UK. Equipment: Canon 70D, Sigma 15-30mm EX DG HSM lens.
Aurora Corona by Andy Walker, Durness, UK.
Aurora Corona by Andy Walker, Durness, UK. Equipment: Canon 70D, Sigma 15-30mm EX DG HSM lens.
Aurora overhead Bae Seren B&B by Andy Walker, Durness, UK.
Aurora overhead Bae Seren B&B by Andy Walker, Durness, UK. Equipment: Canon 70D, Sigma 15-30mm EX DG HSM lens.
Aurora In Iceland by Simon Williams, West of Reykjavic, Iceland.
Aurora In Iceland by Simon Williams, West of Reykjavic, Iceland. Equipment: Nikon D3100 DSLR, tripod.
Amazing Aurora Borealis in Alaska by John Chumack, Mongolia.
Amazing Aurora Borealis in Alaska by John Chumack, Mongolia. Equipment: Canon 6D DSLR, 24 mm lens.
Achavanich Aurora by Gordon Mackie, Caithness, UK.
Achavanich Aurora by Gordon Mackie, Caithness, UK. Equipment: Canon 760D DSLR, Sigma 10-20mm lens, Tripod.
Jerisjarvi Aurorae by Olli Reijonen, Lake Jeris, Muonio, Lappland, Finland.
Jerisjarvi Aurorae by Olli Reijonen, Lake Jeris, Muonio, Lappland, Finland. Equipment: Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, Olympus M.Zuico digital 8mm 1:1,8 fisheye