AN ONLINE map of the top places in Scotland to view the Aurora Borealis – the famous Northern Lights – is being compiled by space scientists.
AuroraWatch UK, based at Lancaster University, is appealing to the public to provide data on where the Northern Lights can best be watched and photographed.
Space scientist Dr Jim Wild only launched the map appeal on Facebook and Twitter on Monday, but said the response has already been “fantastic”.
He said: “The Aurora is particularly active around the Arctic Circle, particularly in Iceland and Greenland.
“But every ten to 11-year period the sun becomes quite active and this causes geo-magnetic activity further south, in particular in the UK.
“The last time that happened, social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter weren’t around and it wasn’t accessible to let a wider audience know where and when it is taking place.”
Now, however, that is possible with the internet. Members of the public are able to send photographs immediately.
Dr Wild went on to explain: “So we want to find out the best locations for people to go when there is Aurora activity and where they can get the best sightings and photographs. We have over 50,000 people using the service via Facebook, Twitter and our own email.
“At the moment we are about at the maximum of solar activity for this decade and we are able to sent out alerts when the geomagnetic activity is high.
“Then, those wanting to get a good view or photo can refer to this map and see where their nearest location is.”
Some Scottish locations already put on the map include Holy Island/Lindisfarne, with the causeway being a favoured venue, having a clear view north and the possibility of auroral reflections in the sea.
Others include Cairngorm National Park car park, Barassie Beach in Troon, Bow Fiddle Rock at Portknockie in Moray, a mountain bothy on the northern tip of Skye, a Banff windfarm and Applecross peninsula.
Other locations suggested by followers of AuroraWatch are “anywhere in Shetland” – where the Northern Lights are referred to as the Merrie Dancers – and Orkney.
Welcoming the initiative, a VisitScotland spokesman said: “The Northern Lights are a huge asset for Scotland and feature prominently in our advertising in the UK and the rest of the world.
“This new online guide will be a great opportunity to showcase areas of Scotland that are not only great fun during the day but also spectacular at night.
“The Year of Natural Scotland kicks off on 1 January and the Northern Lights are sure to be high on the agenda for celebrating the many elements of this milestone year.”
The AuroraWatch project draws on data gathered by scientific instruments in Iceland, Greenland, Russia and northern Scandinavia studying variations in the earth’s magnetic field.
Followers of their website, Facebook and Twitter accounts receive real-time alerts to when conditions in space are likely to result in the Northern Lights.
The scheme’s scientists thought it would be a good idea not only to give a heads up as to when conditions were right, but also to point people in the direction of the best places to see the displays.
People who wish to add suggestions can post them on the AuroraWatch Facebook page.
In January, the Northern Lights were observed across Scotland, particularly over Shetland, the Western Isles, Aberdeenshire, and down to the Scottish Borders.