How can I tell if the Northern Lights are going to appear?
By far the easiest way to find out when the aurora is going to show, is by joining Shetland Aurora Hunter on Facebook. Information is regularly updated on the current activity, members sightings, weather and road conditions. The group was set up to share these experiences and photos and now has a membership of over 6,000.
Once you know that the aurora is active, check that you have some clear sky – a part clear sky is still ok if it's in the north. Go to a dark site; you are less likely to see the aurora in a light polluted area unless it's very strong. Seek out a low horizon to the north and find a site within 15 mins from your location as the aurora can develop quickly.
Give your eyes at least 10 mins to adjust to the darkness and try not to use a torch otherwise your night vision will be affected. Wrap up warm, or your viewing will be short lived. I remember on a few occasions where people turned up to see the aurora in shorts and a t-shirt and another where two women arrive in slippers and dressing gowns. They only stayed a few minutes and missed some great aurora activity.
It's sometimes difficult to see the aurora especially when it is not very active, so take a photograph looking north, if it shows green then you're in luck. You will only see colour if it's a very strong aurora otherwise you may only see a white cloud like band with your eyes.
Look northwest and check by taking another photo, it may show more colour. I was once taking photos of the aurora when a minibus pulled up. Folk came over and asked where to see the aurora. I said it was good here and showed them the photos, but they said it might be better about a mile up the road and, as they travelled up, missed the best of the action.
How long should I wait for the Northern Lights?
Chances are it will develop and become stronger, if you wait. Look for any shafts of light appearing and a ripple effect as the aurora becomes more active. Stay as long as possible. It can flare up for a short time then fade before it get stronger again.
At a couple of places I've heard cheers coming out of the darkness as a fantastic sky develops; that’s the power of the aurora.
When is the best time of year to see the Northern Lights in Shetland?
The aurora season in Shetland normally runs from mid-August to the end of April, but is weather dependant. The longest run of consecutive nights recorded by Shetland Aurora Hunter members was 10 nights in February 2021. Usually the peak hours are between 9pm and 2am but it can be as early as 6.30pm, so keep checking the Facebook group.