• Northern lights over Deerness - image by Premysl Fojtu

Northern Lights during Orkney's dark nights

Find out how, where and when you can catch a sight of the Aurora Borealis in Orkney.

As the seasons begin to change from summer to autumn, and the darker nights creep in, people in Orkney start to look skywards, eager for a glimpse of one of the most spectacular events of the year.

It’s time once again for the awe-inspiring Aurora Borealis to light up the sky. Orkney is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights thanks to our location and lack of light pollution – all you need are clear skies, a good view north…and plenty of warm clothing!

The phenomenon, known as the ‘Merry Dancers’ locally, is caused by solar wind from the sun colliding with magnetic particles in the Earth’s atmosphere.

When everything aligns perfectly, people on the ground can be treated to beautiful displays of green, purple and red light, dancing across the night sky.

Take a look at our video below of previous northern lights displays in Orkney, captured using timelapse images from local photographers

So how can you make sure you see the Northern Lights in all their glory during your time in Orkney? Unfortunately, we can’t provide a timetable (can you imagine how many tickets we could sell if we could), but here are some helpful tips on how to make sure you’re in the right place, at the right time.

Check the weather forecast

If it’s going to be a cloudy night then you won’t see anything, irrespective of the strength of the Aurora.

Do your research

It can be a complicated business, especially if your experience of predicting the perfect solar conditions isn’t entirely up to scratch! That’s why you can let the experts do it for you. Join the excellent Orkney Aurora Group on Facebook for advice and early warning of potential displays. Members post regular updates, as well as some beautiful images and videos.

Other options are available too. You can visit the Space Weather Live website, or sign up for alerts from Aurorawatch UK.

Pack your bags

If you’re going to take your Aurora hunting seriously, you might be out and about for a while. It’s very much an outdoor activity, so we’d recommend plenty of layers and a good, warm hat. A flask with a hot drink is advisable, and some supplies to keep your energy up are vital – especially if it’s one of those nights when the Dancers don’t dim until the early hours of the morning.

Set your camera

Sometimes what you can see with the naked eye can vary massively from the colours your camera can pick up. Sometimes a dull, green glow in the distance can be a beautiful display of colour on your camera’s viewfinder. Getting to grips with your settings is the hard part – luckily the Orkney Aurora Group has provided this handy guide.

Pick your location

There are so many perfect places to watch the Northern Lights in Orkney. How about one of our famous ancient sites? Or from a stunning beach, with the rolling waves as a soundtrack to the show? Orkney’s north isles are perhaps the ideal locations, with very little light pollution and low-lying landscapes, giving uninterrupted views.

Have a look at some of these images for location inspiration…

Other popular places include: the Brough of Birsay, the Broch of Gurness, Inganess Bay, the Ring of Brodgar and Wideford Hill. All of these locations have clear views north and nearby parking. Pick your spot, cross your fingers and then sit back and enjoy the beautiful northern lights during our cold, clear northern nights.

Begin your Aurora-hunting experience by booking your trip to Orkney – search our accommodation listings for your perfect base.

The Digital Media Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.

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