In order to enjoy one of the most amazing natural phenomena, the northern lights, we usually have to travel far north, to Norway or Iceland. However, 2024 promises to be a very special year in terms of seeing the aurora borealis, because not only in the Arctic regions, but also in southern Europe and Hungary, there is a very high probability of the “aurora borealis”, i.e. The northern lights will flash several times with magical colors as in November 2023 we can see them in Transdanubia and around Budapest.
2024 will be the year of the northern lights
The bright red, green and purple bands of light in the sky called the northern lights result from the interaction of high-energy charged particles coming from the Sun – the so-called solar wind – and the Earth's atmosphere. When these extremely high-speed particles reach Earth, our planet's magnetic field deflects them toward the polar regions.
All of this means that in the Northern Hemisphere the aurora borealis can usually only be observed from Arctic regions above the Arctic Circle. In a very unusual way last November, the night skies from southern England to Slovenia were repeatedly colored crimson by unusually strong northern lights. This absolutely stunning celestial phenomenon was also visible from Hungary, as we previously wrote about in Origo. Solar physicists monitored a large explosion on the surface of the Sun immediately before the aurora borealis that penetrated most of Europe last November, thus indicating a jump in geomagnetic activity for the following days.
The northern lights usually flash within a circle about three thousand kilometers in diameter from the magnetic pole. However, in the event of a larger coronal mass ejection, this circle can sometimes expand significantly. CMEs can be traced back to the instability of the Sun's magnetic field.
If the Earth lies exactly in the direction of a coronal ejection, powerful magnetic storms could develop.
High-energy particles coming from the sun can cause serious disturbances in electrical networks by colliding with the magnetosphere.
In such a situation, even at low latitudes, the probability of the northern lights flashing increases significantly. That's what happened last November, when the aurora's dramatic array of colors became visible as far away as Apulia in Italy and Central Macedonia in Greece.
This year, seeing the northern lights could be much easier, even from the territory of Hungary
The color of the aurora depends on the altitude in the atmosphere and on the gas molecules hit by the high-energy particles coming from the Sun. During a collision, different amounts of energy are released in the form of light of different wavelengths. Oxygen emits green light when it hits solar wind particles at about 100 km above Earth, but at 160-320 km it actually produces a red aurora – a very rare sight.
Particles that collide with nitrogen give off a bluish glow, but at high altitudes the glow has a purple hue. The frequency and intensity of the northern lights depends on the solar cycle. Astronomers usually express the strength of solar activity by measuring the quantity and intensity of individual phenomena related to solar activity. (The most widely used indicator is the so-called Relative number of wolf sunspots.) The change in solar activity occurs after a period of eleven years, meaning that it becomes at its strongest every eleven years.
When solar activity is strongest, charged particles permanently present in the magnetosphere – in the Van Allen belts – can enter the Earth's upper atmosphere in the polar regions due to a magnetic storm, causing the optical phenomenon known as the aurora borealis.
Every eleven years, the Sun's magnetic field completely reverses.
As we approach this peak in 2024 or 2025, the number of sunspots and the activity of the Sun will increase dramatically.
For this reason there is a much greater chance of seeing the northern lights this year even from the territory of Hungary, especially during the spring and autumn solstice. It appears that in 2024, the northern lights will be much stronger and more frequent than they have been in more than a decade.